||delphia > "SERMONS on GOSPEL THEMES" by C. G. Finney (page 1 of 3)
SERMONS ON GOSPEL THEMES
Charles G. Finney
A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age
by Charles Grandison Finney
"LECTURES ON REVIVALS OF RELIGION,"
"LECTURES TO PROFESSING CHRISTIANS,"
- - - -
These sermons were preached by Pres. Finney at Oberlin during
the years 1845-1861, and reported from his lips by myself. In taking these reports
I aimed to give the heads of the sermons and all the important statements verbatim,
to retain always the substance of thought, and especially to seize upon the illustrations
and present their essential points. Taken down in a species of short-hand, they were
subsequently written out, and in every case read to Pres. Finney in his study for
any corrections he might desire, and for his endorsement. Consequently these reports
present truthfully the great doctrines preached, and in good measure it is believed
the method and manner of his preaching.
Few preachers in any age have surpassed Pres. Finney in clear and well-defined views
of conscience, and of man's moral convictions; few have been more fully at home in
the domain of law and government; few have learned more of the spiritual life from
experience and from observation; not many have discriminated the true from the false
more closely, or have been more skillful in putting their points clearly and pungently.
Hence, these sermons under God were full of spiritual power. They are given to the
public in this form, in the hope that at least a measure of the same wholesome saving
power may never fail to bless the reader.
"GOSPEL THEMES" in 3 html pages-
CHAPTERS 1-7 of page 1 (this page)
CHAPTERS 8-15 of page 2 ---New Window
CHAPTERS 16-24 of page 3 ---New Window
To avoid broken links, due to file length, please wait for the page to
before selecting ANY link below.
The links above can be used immediately.
Suggestions during load time:
Take a look at Mr. Finney's
Table of Contents.
Table of Contents
This is 100% Finney with no deletions or
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Back to Top
GOD'S LOVE FOR A SINNING WORLD.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." -- John 3:16.
Sin is the most expensive thing in the universe.
Nothing else can cost so much. Pardoned or unpardoned, its cost is infinitely great.
Pardoned, the cost falls chiefly on the great atoning Substitute; unpardoned, it
must fall on the head of the guilty sinner.
The existence of sin is a fact everywhere experienced -- everywhere observed. There
is sin in our race everywhere and in awful aggravation.
Sin is the violation of an infinitely important law -- a law designed and adapted
to secure the highest good of the universe. Obedience to this law is naturally essential
to the good of creatures. Without obedience there could be no blessedness even in
As sin is a violation of a most important law, it cannot be treated lightly. No government
can afford to treat disobedience as a trifle, inasmuch as everything -- the entire
welfare of the government and of all the governed -- turns upon obedience. Just in
proportion to the value of the interests at stake is the necessity of guarding law
and of punishing disobedience.
The law of God must not be dishonoured by anything He shall do. It has been dishonoured
by the disobedience of man; hence, the more need that God should stand by it, to
retrieve its honour. The utmost dishonour is done to law by disowning, disobeying,
and despising it. All this, sinning man has done. Hence, this law being not only
good, but intrinsically necessary to the happiness of the governed, it becomes of
all things most necessary that the law-giver should vindicate his law. He must by
all means do it.
Hence, sin has involved God's government in a vast expense. Either the law must be
executed at the expense of the well-being of the whole race, or God must submit to
suffer the worst results of disrespect to His law -- results which in some form must
involve a vast expense.
Take for example any human government. Suppose the righteous and necessary laws which
it imposes are disowned and dishonoured. In such a case the violated law must be
honoured by the execution of its penalty, or something else not less expensive, and
probably much more so, must be endured. Transgression must cost happiness, somewhere,
and in vast amount.
In the case of God's government it has been deemed advisable to provide a substitute
-- one that should answer the purpose of saving the sinner, and yet of honouring
the law. This being determined on, the next great question was -- How shall the expense
The Bible informs us how the question was in fact decided. By a voluntary conscription
-- shall I call it -- or donation? Call it as we may, it was a voluntary offering.
Who shall head the subscription? Who shall begin where so much is to be raised? Who
will make the first sacrifice? Who will take the first step in a project so vast?
The Bible informs us. It began with the Infinite Father. He made the first great
donation. He gave His only begotten Son -- this to begin with -- and having given
Him first, He freely gives all else that the exigencies of the case can require.
First, He gave His Son to make the atonement due to law; then gave and sent His Holy
Spirit to take charge of this work. The Son on His part consented to stand as the
representative of sinners, that He might honour the law, by suffering in their stead.
He poured out His blood, made a whole life of suffering a free donation on the altar
-- withheld not His face from spitting, nor His back from stripes -- shrunk not from
the utmost contumely that wicked men could heap on Him. So the Holy Ghost also devotes
Himself to most self-denying efforts unceasingly, to accomplish the great object.
It would have been a very short method to have turned over His hand upon the wicked
of our race, and sent them all down quick to hell, as once He did when certain angels
"kept not their first estate." Rebellion broke out in heaven. Not long
did God bear it, around His lofty throne. But in the case of man He changed His course
-- did not send them all to hell, but devised a vast scheme of measures, involving
most amazing self-denials and self-sacrifices, to gain men's souls back to obedience
For whom was this great donation made? "God so loved the world," meaning
the whole race of men. By the "world" in this connection cannot be meant
any particular part only, but the whole race. Not only the Bible, but the nature
of the case, shows that the atonement must have been made for the whole world. For
plainly if it had not been made for the entire race, no man of the race could ever
know that it was made for himself, and therefore not a man could believe on Christ
in the sense of receiving by faith the blessings of the atonement. There being an
utter uncertainty as to the persons embraced in the limited provisions which we now
suppose to be made, the entire donation must fail through the impossibility of rational
faith for its reception. Suppose a will is made by a rich man bequeathing certain
property to certain unknown persons, described only by the name of "the elect."
They are not described otherwise than by this term, and all agree that although the
maker of the will had the individuals definitely in his mind, yet that he left no
description of them, which either the persons themselves, the courts, nor any living
mortal can understand. Now such a will is of necessity altogether null and void.
No living man can claim under such a will, and none the better though these elect
were described as residents of Oberlin. Since it does not embrace all the residents
of Oberlin, and does not define which of them, all is lost. All having an equal claim
and none any definite claim, none can inherit. If the atonement were made in this
way, no living man would have any valid reason for believing himself one of the elect,
prior to his reception of the Gospel. Hence he would have no authority to believe
and receive its blessings by faith. In fact, the atonement must be wholly void --
on this supposition -- unless a special revelation is made to the persons for whom
it is intended.
As the case is, however, the very fact that a man belongs to the race of Adam --
the fact that he is human, born of woman, is all-sufficient. It brings him within
the pale. He is one of the world for whom God gave His Son, that whosoever would
believe in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.
The subjective motive in the mind of God for this great gift was love, love to the
world. God so loved the world that He gave His Son to die for it. God loved the universe
also but this gift of His Son sprang from love to our world. True, in this great
act He took pains to provide for the interests of the universe. He was careful to
do nothing that could in the least let down the sacredness of His law. Most carefully
did He intend to guard against misapprehension as to His regard for His law and for
the high interests of obedience and happiness in His moral universe. He meant once
for all to preclude the danger lest any moral agent should be tempted to undervalue
the moral law.
Yet farther, it was not only from love to souls, but from respect to the spirit of
the law of His own eternal reason, that He gave up His Son to die. In this the purpose
to give up His Son originated. The law of His own reason must be honoured and held
sacred. He may do nothing inconsistent with its spirit. He must do everything possible
to prevent the commission of sin and to secure the confidence and love of His subjects.
So sacred did He hold these great objects that He would baptize His Son in His own
blood, sooner than peril the good of the universe. Beyond a question it was love
and regard for the highest good of the universe that led Him to sacrifice His own
Let us next consider attentively the nature of this love. The text lays special stress
on this -- God so loved -- His love was of such a nature, so wonderful and so peculiar
in its character, that it led Him to give up His only Son to die. More is evidently
implied in this expression than simply its greatness. It is most peculiar in its
character. Unless we understand this, we shall be in danger of falling into the strange
mistake of the Universalists, who are forever talking about God's love for sinners,
but whose notions of the nature of this love never lead to repentance or to holiness.
They seem to think of this love as simply good nature, and conceive of God only as
a very good-natured being, whom nobody need to fear. Such notions have not the least
influence towards holiness, but the very opposite. It is only when we come to understand
what this love is in its nature that we feel its moral power promoting holiness.
It may be reasonably asked, If God so loved the world with a love characterized by
greatness, and by greatness only, why did He not save all the world without sacrificing
His Son? This question suffices to show us that there is deep meaning in this word
so, and should put us upon a careful study of this meaning.
- 1. This love in its nature is not complacency
-- a delight in the character of the race. This could not be, for there was nothing
amiable in their character. For God to have loved such a race complacently would
have been infinitely disgraceful to Himself.
- 2. It was not a mere emotion or feeling. It was
not a blind impulse, though many seem to suppose it was. It seems to be often supposed
that God acted as men do when they are borne away by strong emotion. But there could
be no virtue in this. A man might give away all he is worth under such a blind impulse
of feeling, and be none the more virtuous. But in saying this we do not exclude all
emotion from the love of benevolence, nor from God's love for a lost world. He had
emotion, but not emotion only. Indeed, the Bible everywhere teaches us that God's
love for man, lost in his sins, was paternal -- the love of a father for his offspring
-- in this case, for a rebellious, froward, prodigal offspring. In this love there
must of course blend the deepest compassion.
- 3. On the part of Christ, considered as Mediator,
this love was fraternal. "He is not ashamed to call them brethren." In
one point of view, He is acting for brethren, and in another for children. The Father
gave Him up for this work and of course sympathizes in the love appropriate to its
- 4. This love must be altogether disinterested,
for He had nothing to hope or to fear -- no profit to make out of His children if
they should be saved. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive of God as being selfish,
since His love embraces all creatures and all interests according to their real value.
No doubt He took delight in saving our race -- why should He not? It is a great salvation
in every sense, and greatly does it swell the bliss of heaven -- greatly will it
affect the glory and the blessedness of the Infinite God. He will eternally respect
Himself for love so disinterested. He knows also that all His Holy creatures will
eternally respect Him for this work and for the love that gave it birth. But let
it also be said, He knew they would not respect Him for this great work unless they
should see that He did it for the good of sinners.
- 5. This love was zealous -- not that cold-hearted
state of mind which some suppose -- not an abstraction, but a love deep, zealous,
earnest, burning in His soul as a fire that nothing can quench.
- 6. The sacrifice was a most self-denying one.
Did it cost the Father nothing to give up His own beloved Son to suffer, and to die
such a death? If this be not self-denial, what can be? Thus to give up His Son to
so much suffering -- is not this the noblest self-denial? The universe never could
have the idea of great self-denial but for such an exemplification.
- 7. This love was particular because it was universal;
and also universal because it was particular. God loved each sinner in particular,
and therefore loved all. Because He loved all impartially, with no respect of persons,
therefore He loved each in particular.
- 8. This was a most patient love. How rare to find
a parent so loving his child as never to be impatient. Let me go round and ask, how
many of you, parents, can say that you love all your children so well, and with so
much love, and with love so wisely controlling, that you have never felt impatient
towards any of them -- so that you can take them in your arms under the greatest
provocations and love them down, love them out of their sins, love them into repentance
and into a filial spirit? Of which of your children can you say, Thank God, I never
fretted against that child -- of which, if you were to meet him in heaven, could
you say, I never caused that child to fret? Often have I heard parents say, I love
my children, but oh, how my patience fails me! And, after the dear ones are dead,
you may hear their bitter moans, Oh, my soul, how could I have caused my child so
much stumbling and so much sin!
- But God never frets -- is never impatient. His
love is so deep and so great that He is always patient.
Sometimes, when parents have unfortunate children -- poor objects of compassion --
they can bear with anything from them; but when they are very wicked, they seem to
feel that they are quite excusable for being impatient. In God's case, these are
not unfortunate children, but are intensely wicked -- intelligently wicked. But oh,
His amazing patience -- so set upon their good, so desirous of their highest welfare,
that however they abuse Him, He sets Himself to bless them still, and weep them down,
and melt them into penitence and love, by the death of His Son in their stead!
- 9. This is a jealous love, not in a bad sense,
but in a good sense -- in the sense of being exceedingly careful lest anything should
occur to injure those He loves. Just as husband and wife who truly love each other
are jealous with ever wakeful jealousy over each other's welfare, seeking always
to do all they can to promote each other's true interests.
- This donation is already made -- made in good
faith -- not only promised, but actually made. The promise, given long before, has
been fulfilled. The Son has come, has died, has made the ransom and lives to offer
it -- a prepared salvation to all who will embrace it.
The Son of God died not to appease vengeance, as some seem to understand it, but
under the demands of law. The law had been dishonoured by its violation. Hence, Christ
undertook to honour it by giving up to its demands His suffering life and atoning
death. It was not to appease a vindictive spirit in God, but to secure the highest
good of the universe in a dispensation of mercy.
Since this atonement has been made, all men in the race have a right to it. It is
open to every one who will embrace it. Though Jesus still remains the Father's Son,
yet by gracious right He belongs in an important sense to the race -- to everyone;
so that every sinner has an interest in His blood if he will only come humbly forward
and claim it. God sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world -- of whomsoever would
believe and accept this great salvation.
God gives His Spirit to apply this salvation to men. He comes to each man's door
and knocks, to gain admittance, if He can, and show each sinner that he may now have
salvation. Oh, what a labour of love is this!
This salvation must be received, if at all, by faith. This is the only possible way.
God's government over sinners is moral, not physical, because the sinner is himself
a moral and not a physical agent. Therefore, God can influence us in no way unless
we will give Him our confidence. He never can save us by merely taking us away to
some place called heaven -- as if change of place would change the voluntary heart.
There can, therefore, be no possible way to be saved but by simple faith.
Now do not mistake and suppose that embracing the Gospel is simply to believe these
historical facts without truly receiving Christ as your Saviour. If this had been
the scheme, then Christ had need only to come down and die; then go back to heaven
and quietly wait to see who would believe the facts. But how different is the real
case! Now Christ comes down to fill the soul with His own life and love. Penitent
sinners hear and believe the truth concerning Jesus, and then receive Christ into
the soul to live and reign there supreme and for ever. On this point many mistake,
saying, If I believe the facts as matters of history it is enough. No! No! This is
not it by any means. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness."
The atonement was indeed made to provide the way so that Jesus could come down to
human hearts and draw them into union and sympathy with Himself -- so that God could
let down the arms of His love and embrace sinners -- so that law and government should
not be dishonoured by such tokens of friendship shown by God toward sinners. But
the atonement will by no means save sinners only as it prepares the way for them
to come into sympathy and fellowship of heart with God.
Now Jesus comes to each sinner's door and knocks. Hark! what's that? what's that?
Why this knocking? Why did He not go away and stay in heaven if that were the system,
till men should simply believe the historical facts and be baptized, as some suppose,
for salvation. But now, see how He comes down -- tells the sinner what He has done
-- reveals all His love -- tells him how holy and sacred it is, so sacred that He
can by no means act without reference to the holiness of His law and the purity of
His government. Thus impressing on the heart the most deep and enlarged ideas of
His holiness and purity, He enforces the need of deep repentance and the sacred duty
of renouncing all sin.
- 1. The Bible teaches that sinners may forfeit
their birthright and put themselves beyond the reach of mercy. It is not long since
I made some remark to you on the manifest necessity that God should guard Himself
against the abuses of His love. The circumstances are such as create the greatest
danger of such abuse, and, therefore, He must make sinners know that they may not
abuse His love, and cannot do it with impunity.
- 2. Under the Gospel, sinners are in circumstances
of the greatest possible responsibility. They are in the utmost danger of trampling
down beneath their feet the very Son of God. Come, they say, let us kill Him and
the inheritance shall be ours. When God sends forth, last of all, His own beloved
Son, what do they do? Add to all their other sins and rebellions the highest insult
to this glorious Son! Suppose something analogous to this were done under a human
government. A case of rebellion occurs in some of the provinces. The king sends his
own son, not with an army, to cut them down quick in their rebellion, but all gently,
meekly, patiently, he goes among them, explaining the laws of the kingdom and exhorting
them to obedience. What do they do in the case? With one consent they combine to
seize him and put him to death!
- But you deny the application of this, and ask
me, Who murdered the Son of God? Were they not Jews? Aye, and have you, sinners,
had no part in this murder? Has not your treatment of Jesus Christ shown that you
are most fully in sympathy with the ancient Jews in their murder of the Son of God?
If you had been there, would any one have shouted louder than you, Away with Him
-- crucify Him, crucify Him? Have you not always said, Depart from us -- for we desire
not the knowledge of Thy ways?
- 3. It was said of Christ that, Though rich He
became poor that we through His poverty might be rich. How strikingly true is this?
Our redemption cost Christ His life; it found Him rich, but made Him poor; it found
us infinitely poor, but made us rich even to all the wealth of heaven. But of these
riches none can partake till they shall each for himself accept them in the legitimate
way. They must be received on the terms proposed, or the offer passes utterly away,
and you are left poorer even than if no such treasures had ever been laid at your
- Many persons seem entirely to misconceive this
case. They seem not to believe what God says, but keep saying, If, if, if there only
were any salvation for me -- if there were only an atonement provided for the pardon
of my sins. This was one of the last things that was cleared up in my mind before
I fully committed my soul to trust God. I had been studying the atonement; I saw
its philosophical bearings -- saw what it demanded of the sinner; but it irritated
me, and I said -- If I should become a Christian, how could I know what God would
do with me? Under this irritation I said foolish and bitter things against Christ
-- till my own soul was horrified at its own wickedness, and I said -- I will make
all this up with Christ if the thing is possible.
In this way many advance upon the encouragements of the Gospel as if it were only
a peradventure, an experiment. They take each forward step most carefully, with fear
and trembling, as if there were the utmost doubt whether there could be any mercy
for them. So with myself. I was on my way to my office, when the question came before
my mind -- What are you waiting for? You need not get up such an ado. All is done
already. You have only to consent to the proposition -- give your heart right up
to it at once -- this is all. Just so it is. All Christians and sinners ought to
understand that the whole plan is complete -- that the whole of Christ -- His character,
His work, His atoning death, and His ever-living intercession -- belong to each and
every man, and need only to be accepted. There is a full ocean of it. There it is.
You may just as well take it as not. It is as if you stood on the shore of an ocean
of soft, pure water, famishing with thirst; you are welcome to drink, and you need
not fear lest you exhaust that ocean, or starve anybody else by drinking yourself.
You need not feel that you are not made free to that ocean of waters; you are invited
and pressed to drink -- yea to drink abundantly! This ocean supplies all your need.
You do not need to have in yourself the attributes of Jesus Christ, for His attributes
become practically yours for all possible use. As saith the Scripture -- He is of
God made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. What do you
need? Wisdom? Here it is. Righteousness? Here it is. Sanctification? Here you have
it. All is in Christ. Can you possibly think of any one thing needful for your moral
purity, or your usefulness which is not here in Christ? Nothing. All is provided
here. Therefore you need not say, I will go and pray and try, as the hymn,
"I'll go to Jesus tho' my sin
Hath like a mountain rose,
Perhaps He will admit my plea;
Perhaps will hear my prayer."
- There is no need of any perhaps. The doors are
always open. Like the doors of Broadway Tabernacle in New York, made to swing open
and fasten themselves open, so that they could not swing back and shut down upon
the crowds of people thronging to pass through. When they were to be made, I went
myself to the workmen and told them by all means to fix them so that they must swing
open and fasten themselves in that position.
So the door of salvation is open always -- fastened open, and no man can shut it
-- not the Pope, even, nor the devil, nor any angel from heaven or from hell. There
it stands, all swung back and the passage wide open for every sinner of our race
to enter if he will.
Again, sin is the most expensive thing in the universe. Are you well aware, O sinner,
what a price has been paid for you that you may be redeemed and made an heir of God
and of heaven? O what an expensive business for you to indulge in sin.
And what an enormous tax the government of God has paid to redeem this province from
its ruin! Talk about the poor tax of Great Britain and of all other nations superadded;
all is nothing to the sin-tax of Jehovah's government -- that awful sin-tax! Think
how much machinery is kept in motion to save sinners! The Son of God was sent down
-- angels are sent as ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation; missionaries
are sent, Christians labour, and pray and weep in deep and anxious solicitude --
all to seek and save the lost. What a wonderful-enormous tax is levied upon the benevolence
of the universe to put away sin and to save the sinner! If the cost could be computed
in solid gold what a world of it -- a solid globe of itself! What an array of toil
and cost, from angels, Jesus Christ, the Divine Spirit, and living men. Shame on
sinners who hold on to sin despite of all these benevolent efforts to save them!
who instead of being ashamed out of sin, will say -- Let God pay off this tax; who
cares! Let the missionaries labour, let pious women work their very fingers off to
raise funds to keep all this human machinery in motion; no matter: what is all this
to me? I have loved my pleasures and after them I will go! What an unfeeling heart
Sinners can very well afford to make sacrifices to save their fellow sinners. Paul
could for his fellow sinners. He felt that he had done his part toward making sinners,
and now it became him to do his part also in converting them back to God. But see
there -- that young man thinks he cannot afford to be a minister, for he is afraid
he shall not be well supported. Does he not owe something to the grace that saved
his soul from hell? Has he not some sacrifices to make, since Jesus has made so many
for him, and Christians too, in Christ before him -- did they not pray and suffer
and toil for his soul's salvation? As to his danger of lacking bread in the Lord's
work, let him trust his Great Master. Yet let me also say that churches may be in
great fault for not comfortably supporting their pastors. Let them know God will
assuredly starve them if they starve their ministers. Their own souls and the souls
of their children shall be barren as death if they avariciously starve those whom
God in His providence sends to feed them with the bread of life.
How much it costs to rid society of certain forms of sin, as for example, slavery.
How much has been expended already, and how much more yet remains to be expended
ere this sore evil and curse and sin shall be rooted from our land! This is part
of God's great enterprise, and He will press it on to its completion. Yet at what
an amazing cost! How many lives and how much agony to get rid of this one sin!
Woe to those who make capital out of the sins of men! Just think of the rumseller
-- tempting men while God is trying to dissuade them from rushing on in the ways
of sin and death! Think of the guilt of those who thus set themselves in array against
God! So Christ has to contend with rumsellers who are doing all they can to hinder
Our subject strikingly illustrates the nature of sin as mere selfishness. It cares
not how much sin costs Jesus Christ -- how much it costs the Church, how much it
taxes the benevolent sympathies and the self-sacrificing labours of all the good
in earth or heaven; no matter; the sinner loves self-indulgence and will have it
while he can. How many of you have cost your friends countless tears and trouble
to get you back from your ways of sin? Are you not ashamed when so much has been
done for you, that you cannot be persuaded to give up your sins and turn to God and
The whole effort on the part of God for man is one of suffering and self-denial.
Beginning with the sacrifice of His own beloved Son, it is carried on with ever renewed
sacrifices and toilsome labours -- at great and wonderful expense. Just think how
long a time these efforts have been protracted already -- how many tears, poured
out like water, it has cost -- how much pain in many forms this enterprise has caused
and cost -- yea, that very sin which you roll as a sweet morsel under your tongue!
God may well hate it when He sees how much it costs, and say -- O do not that abominable
thing that I hate!
Yet God is not unhappy in these self-denials. So great is His joy in the results,
that He deems all the suffering but comparatively a trifle, even as earthly parents
enjoy the efforts they make to bless their children. See them; they will almost work
their very hands off; mothers sit up at night to ply their needle till they reel
with fatigue and blindness; but if you were to see their toil, you would often see
also their joy, so intensely do they love their children.
Such is the labour, the joy, and the self-denial of the Father, the Son and the Holy
Ghost, in their great work for human salvation. Often are they grieved that so many
will refuse to be saved. Toiling on in a common sympathy, there is nothing, within
reasonable limits, which they will not do or suffer to accomplish their great work.
It is wonderful to think how all creation sympathizes, too, in this work and its
necessary sufferings. Go back to the scene of Christ's sufferings. Could the sun
in the heavens look down unmoved on such a scene? O no, he could not even behold
it -- but veiled his face from the sight! All nature seemed to put on her robes of
deepest mourning. The scene was too much for even inanimate nature to bear. The sun
turned his back and could not look down on such a spectacle!
The subject illustrates forcibly the worth of the soul. Think you God would have
done all this if He had had those low views on this subject which sinners usually
Martyrs and saints enjoy their sufferings -- filling up in themselves what is lacking
of the sufferings of Christ; not in the atonement proper, but in the subordinate
parts of the work to be done. It is the nature of true religion to love self-denial.
The results will fully justify all the expense. God had well counted the cost before
He began. Long time before He formed a moral universe He knew perfectly what it must
cost Him to redeem sinners, and He knew that the result would amply justify all the
cost. He knew that a wonder of mercy would be wrought -- that the suffering demanded
of Christ, great as it was, would be endured; and that results infinitely glorious
would accrue therefrom. He looked down the track of time into the distant ages --
where, as the cycles rolled along, there might be seen the joys of redeemed saints,
who are singing their songs and striking their harps anew with the everlasting song,
through the long long, LONG eternity of their blessedness; and was not this enough
for the heart of infinite love to enjoy? And what do you think of it, Christian?
Will you say now, I am ashamed to ask to be forgiven? How can I bear to receive such
mercy! It is the price of blood, and how can I accept it? How can I make Jesus so
You are right in saying that you have cost Him great expense -- but the expense has
been cheerfully met -- the pain has all been endured, and will not need to be endured
again, and it will cost none the more if you accept than if you decline; and moreover
still, let it be considered Jesus Christ has not acted unwisely; He did not pay too
much for the soul's redemption -- not a pang more than the interests of God's government
demanded and the worth of the soul would justify.
O, when you come to see Him face to face, and tell Him what you think of it -- when
you are some thousands of years older than you are now, will you not adore that wisdom
that manages this scheme, and the infinite love in which it had its birth? O what
will you then say of that amazing condescension that brought down Jesus to your rescue!
Say, Christian, have you not often poured out your soul before your Saviour in acknowledgment
of what you have cost Him, and there seemed to be a kind of lifting up as if the
very bottom of your soul were to rise, and you would pour out your whole heart. If
anybody had seen you they would have wondered what had happened to you that had so
melted your soul in gratitude and love.
Say now, sinners will you sell your birthright? How much will you take for it? How
much will you take for your interest in Christ? For how much will you sell your soul?
Sell your Christ! Of old they sold Him for thirty pieces of silver; and ever since,
the heavens have been raining tears of blood on our guilty world. If you were to
be asked by the devil to fix the sum for which you would sell your soul, what would
be the price named? Lorenzo Dow once met a man as he was riding along a solitary
road to fulfil an appointment, and said to him -- Friend, have you ever prayed? No.
How much will you take never to pray hereafter? One dollar. Dow paid it over, and
rode on. The man put the money in his pocket, and passed on, thinking. The more he
thought, the worse he felt. There, said he, I have sold my soul for one dollar! It
must be that I have met the devil! Nobody else would tempt me so. With all my soul
I must repent, or be damned forever!
How often have you bargained to sell your Saviour for less than thirty pieces of
silver! Nay, for the merest trifle!
Finally, God wants volunteers to help on this great work. God has given Himself,
and given His Son, and sent His Spirit; but more labourers still are needed; and
what will you give? Paul said, I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Do
you aspire to such an honour? What will you do -- what will you suffer? Say not,
I have nothing to give. You can give yourself -- your eyes, your ears, your hands,
your mind, your heart, all; and surely nothing you have is too sacred and too good
to be devoted to such a work upon such a call! How many young men are ready to go?
and how many young women? Whose heart leaps up, crying, Here am I! send me?
SERMON II. Back to Top
ON TRUSTING IN THE MERCY OF GOD.
"I will trust in the mercy of God forever and ever." -- Ps. 52:8.
IN discussing this subject I shall enquire,
I. What mercy is.
II. What is implied in trusting in the mercy of the Lord forever.
III. Point out the conditions on which we may safely trust in God's mercy.
IV. Allude to several mistakes which are made on this subject.
I. What mercy is.
- 1. Mercy as an attribute of God, is not to be
confounded with mere goodness. This mistake is often made. That it is a mistake,
you will see at once if you consider that mercy is directly opposed to justice, while
yet justice is one of the natural and legitimate developments of goodness. Goodness
may demand the exercise of justice; indeed it often does; but to say that mercy demands
the exercise of justice, is to use the word without meaning. Mercy asks that justice
be set aside. Of course mercy and goodness stand in very different relations to justice,
and are very different attributes.
- 2. Mercy is a disposition to pardon the guilty.
Its exercise consists in arresting and setting aside the penalty of law, when that
penalty has been incurred by transgression. It is, as has been said, directly opposed
to justice. Justice treats every individual according to his deserts; mercy treats
the criminal very differently from what he deserves to be treated. Desert is never
the rule by which mercy is guided while it is precisely the rule of justice.
- 3. Mercy is exercised only where there is guilt.
It always pre-supposes guilt. The penalty of the law must have been previously incurred,
else there can be no scope for mercy.
- 4. Mercy can be exercised no farther than one
deserves punishment. It may continue its exercise just as long as punishment is deserved,
but no longer; just as far as ill desert goes, but no farther. If great punishment
is deserved, great mercy can be shown; if endless punishment is due, there is then
scope for infinite mercy to be shown, but not otherwise.
II. I am to show what is implied in trusting
in the mercy of God.
- 1. A conviction of guilt. None can properly be
said to trust in the mercy of God unless they have committed crimes, and are conscious
of this fact. Justice protects the innocent, and they may safely appeal to it for
defence or redress. But for the guilty nothing remains but to trust in mercy. Trusting
in mercy always implies a deep, heartfelt conviction of personal guilt.
- 2. Trust in mercy -- always implies that we have
no hope on the score of justice. If we had anything to expect from justice, we should
not look to mercy. The human heart is too proud to throw itself upon mercy while
it presumes itself to have a valid claim to favor on the score of justice. Nay more,
to appeal to mercy when we might rightfully appeal to justice is never demanded either
by God's law or gospel, nor can it be in harmony with our relations to Jehovah's
government. In fact, the thing is, in the very nature of the mind, impossible.
- 3. Trust in mercy implies a just apprehension
of what mercy is. On this point many fail because they confound mercy with mere goodness,
or with grace, considered as mere favor to the undeserving. The latter may be shown
where there is no mercy, the term mercy being applied to the pardon of crime. We
all know that God shows favor, or grace in the general sense, to all the wicked on
earth. He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends His rain on
the unjust as well as on the just. But to trust in this general favor shown to the
wicked while on trial here is not trusting in the mercy of God. We never trust in
mercy till we really understand what it is -- pardon for the crimes of the guilty.
- 4. Trust in God's mercy implies a belief that
He is merciful. We could not trust Him if we had no such belief. This belief must
always lie at the foundation of real trust. Indeed, so naturally does this belief
beget that out-going of the soul and resting upon God which we call trust, that in
the New Testament sense it commonly includes both. Faith, or belief, includes a hearty
committal of the soul to God, and a cordial trust in Him.
- 5. "Trusting in the mercy of God forever
and ever" implies a conviction of deserving endless punishment. Mercy is co-extensive
with desert of punishment, and can in its nature go no farther. It is rational to
rely upon the exercise of mercy for as long time as we deserve punishment, but no
longer. A prisoner under a three years' sentence to State's prison may ask for the
exercise of mercy in the form of pardon for so long a time; but he will not ask a
pardon for ten years when he needs it only for three, or ask a pardon after his three
years' term has expired. This principle is perfectly obvious; where desert of punishment
ceases, there mercy also ceases and our trust in it. While desert of punishment continues,
so may mercy, and our trust in its exercise. When therefore the Psalmist trusts in
the mercy of God forever, he renounces all hope of being ever received to favor on
the score of justice.
- 6. Trusting in mercy implies a cessation from
all excuses and excuse-making. The moment you trust in mercy, you give up all apologies
and excuses at once and entirely; for these imply a reliance upon God's justice.
An excuse or apology is nothing more nor less than an appeal to justice; a plea designed
to justify our conduct. Trusting in mercy forever implies that we have ceased from
all excuses forever.
- Thus a man on trial before a civil court, so long
as he pleads justifications and excuses, appeals to justice; but if he goes before
the court and pleads guilty, offering no justification or apology whatever, he throws
himself upon the clemency of the court. This is quite another thing from self-justification.
It sometimes happens that in the same trial, the accused party tries both expedients.
He first attempts his own defense; but finding this vain, he shifts his position,
confesses his crime and ill desert, and throws himself upon the mercy of the court.
Perhaps he begs the court to commend him to the mercy of the executive in whom is
vested the pardoning power.
Now it is always understood that when a man pleads guilty he desists from making
excuses, and appeals only to mercy. So in any private matter with my neighbor. If
I justify myself fully, I surely have no confession to make. But if I am conscious
of having done him wrong, I freely confess my wrong, and appeal to mercy. Self-justification
stands right over against confession.
So in parental discipline. If your child sternly justifies himself, he makes no appeal
to mercy. But the moment when he casts himself upon your bosom with tears, and says,
I am all wrong, he ceases to make excuses, and trusts himself to mercy. So in the
government of God. Trust in mercy is a final giving up of all reliance upon justice.
You have no more excuses; you make none.
III. We must next consider the conditions upon
which we may confidently and securely trust in the mercy of God forever.
- 1. Public justice must be appeased. Its demands
must be satisfied. God is a great public magistrate, sustaining infinitely responsible
relations to the moral universe. He must be careful what He does.
- Perhaps no measure of government is more delicate
and difficult in its bearings than the exercise of mercy. It is a most critical point.
There is eminent danger of making the impression that mercy would trample down law.
The very thing that mercy does is to set aside the execution of the penalty of law;
the danger is lest this should seem to set aside the law itself. The great problem
is, How can the law retain its full majesty, the execution of its penalty being entirely
withdrawn? This is always a difficult and delicate matter.
In human governments we often see great firmness exercised by the magistrate. During
the scenes of the American Revolution, Washington was earnestly importuned to pardon
Andre. The latter was eminently an amiable, lovely man; and his case excited a deep
sympathy in the American army. Numerous and urgent petitions were made to Washington
in his behalf; but no, Washington could not yield. They besought him to see Andre,
in hope that a personal interview might touch his heart; but he refused even to see
him. He dared not trust his own feelings. He felt that this was a great crisis, and
that a nation's welfare was in peril. Hence his stern, unyielding decision. It was
not that he lacked compassion of soul. He had a heart to feel. But under the circumstances,
he knew too well that no scope must be given to the indulgence of his tender sympathies.
He dared not gratify these feelings, lest a nation's ruin should be the penalty.
Such cases have often occurred in human governments when every feeling of the soul
is on the side of mercy and makes its strong demand for indulgence; but justice forbids.
Often in family government the parent has an agonizing trial; he would sooner bear
the pain himself thrice told than to inflict it upon his son; but interests of perhaps
infinite moment are at stake, and must not be put in peril by the indulgence of his
Now if the exercise of mercy in such cases is difficult how much more so in the government
of God? Hence, the first condition of the exercise of mercy is that something be
done to meet the demands of public justice. It is absolutely indispensable that law
be sustained. However much disposed God may be to pardon, yet He is too good to exercise
mercy on any such conditions or under any such circumstances as will impair the dignity
of His law, throw out a license to sin, and open the very flood-gates of iniquity.
Jehovah never can do this. He knows He never ought to.
On this point it only need be said at present that this difficulty is wholly removed
by the atonement of Christ.
- 2. A second condition is that we repent. Certainly
no sinner has the least ground to hope for mercy until he repents. Will God pardon
the sinner while yet in his rebellion? Never. To do so would be most unjust in God
-- most ruinous to the universe. It would be virtually proclaiming that sin is less
than a trifle -- that God cares not how set in wickedness the sinner's heart is;
He is ready to take the most rebellious heart, unhumbled, to His own bosom. Before
God can do this He must cease to be holy.
- 3. We must confess our sins. "He that confesseth,"
and he only, "shall find mercy." Jehovah sustains such relations to the
moral universe that He cannot forgive without the sinner's confession. He must have
the sinner's testimony against himself and in favor of law and obedience.
- Suppose a man convicted and sentenced to be hung.
He petitions the governor for pardon, but is too proud to confess, at least in public.
"May it please your Honor," he says, "between you and me, I am willing
to say that I committed that crime alleged against me, but you must not ask me to
make this confession before the world. You will have some regard to my feelings and
to the feelings of my numerous and very respectable friends. Before the world therefore
I shall persist in denying the crime. I trust, however, that you will duly consider
all the circumstances and grant me a pardon." Pardon you, miscreant, the governor
would say -- pardon you when you are condemning the whole court and jury of injustice,
and the witnesses of falsehood; pardon you while you set yourself against the whole
administration of justice in the State? Never! never! You are too proud to take your
own place and appear in your own character; how can I rely on you to be a good citizen
-- how can I expect you to be anything better than an arch villain?
Let it be understood, then, that before we can trust in the mercy of God, we must
really repent and make our confession as public as we have made our crime.
Suppose again that a man is convicted and sues for pardon, but will not confess at
all. O, he says, I have no crimes to confess; I have done nothing particularly wrong;
the reason of my acting as I have is that I have a desperately wicked heart. I cannot
repent and never could. I don't know how it happens that I commit murder so easily;
it seems to be a second nature to me to kill my neighbor; I can't help it. I am told
that you are very good, very merciful, he says to the governor; they even say that
you are love itself, and I believe it; you surely will grant me a pardon then, it
will be so easy for you -- and it is so horrible for me to be hung. You know I have
done only a little wrong, and that little only because I could not help it; you certainly
cannot insist upon my making any confession. What! have me hung because I don't repent?
You certainly are too kind to do any such thing.
I don't thank you for your good opinion of me, must be the indignant reply; the law
shall take its course; your path is to the gallows.
See that sinner; hear him mock God in his prayer: "trust in the mercy of God,
for God is love." Do you repent?
"I don't know about repentance -- that is not the question. God is love -- God
is too good to send men to hell; they are Partialists and slander God who think that
He ever sends anybody to hell." Too good! you say; too good! so good that He
will forgive whether the sinner repents or not; too good to hold the reins of His
government firmly; too good to secure the best interests of His vast kingdom! Sinner,
the God you think of is a being of your own crazy imagination -- not the God who
built the prison of despair for hardened sinners -- not the God who rules the universe
by righteous law and our race also on a Gospel system which magnifies that law and
makes it honorable.
- 4. We must really make restitution so far as lies
in our power. You may see the bearing of this in the case of a highway robber. He
has robbed a traveller of ten thousand dollars, and is sentenced to State's prison
for life. He petitions for pardon. Very sorry he is for his crime; will make any
confession that can be asked, ever so public; but will he make restitution? Not he;
no -- he needs that money himself. He will give up half of it, perhaps, to the government;
vastly patriotic is he all at once, and liberal withal; ready to make a donation
of five thousand dollars for the public good! ready to consecrate to most benevolent
uses a splendid sum of money; but whose money? Where is his justice to the man he
has robbed? Wretch! consecrate to the public what you have torn from your neighbor
and put it into the treasury of the government! No; such a gift would burn right
through the chest! What would you think if the government should connive at such
an abomination? You would abhor their execrable corruption.
- See that man of the world, His whole business
career is a course of over-reaching. He slyly thrusts his hands into his neighbor's
pockets and thus fills up his own. His rule is uniformly to sell for more than a
thing is worth and buy for less. He knows how to monopolize and make high prices,
and then sell out his accumulated stocks. His mind is forever on the stretch to manage
and make good bargains. But this man at last must prepare to meet God. So he turns
to his money to make it answer all things. He has a large gift for God. Perhaps he
will build a church or send a missionary -- something pretty handsome at least to
buy a pardon for a life about which his conscience is not very easy. Yes, he has
a splendid bribe for God. Ah, but will God take it? Never! God burns with indignation
at the thought. Does God want your price of blood -- those gains of oppression? Go
and give them back to the suffering poor whose cries have gone up to God against
you. O shame to think to filch from thy brother and give to God! Not merely rob Peter
to pay Paul, but rob man to pay God! The pardon of your soul is not bought so!
- 5. Another condition is that you really reform.
- Suppose there is a villain in our neighborhood
who has become the terror of all the region round about. He has already murdered
a score of defenseless women and children; burns down our houses by night; plunders
and robs daily; and every day brings tidings of his crimes at which every ear tingles.
None feel safe a moment. He is an arch and bloody villain. At last he is arrested,
and we all breathe more easily. Peace is restored. But this miscreant having received
sentence of death, petitions for pardon. He professes no penitence whatever, and
makes not even a promise of amendment; yet the governor is about to give him a free
pardon. If he does it, who will not say, He ought to be hung up himself by the neck
till he is dead, dead! But what does that sinner say? "I trust," says he,
"in the great mercy of God. I have nothing to fear." But does he reform?
No. What good can the mercy of God do him if he does not reform?
- 6. You must go the whole length in justifying
the law and its penalty.
- Mark that convicted criminal. He doesn't believe
that government has any right to take life for any crime; he demurs utterly to the
justice of such a proceeding, and on this ground insists that he must have a pardon.
Will he get it? Will the governor take a position which is flatly opposed to the
very law and constitution which he is sworn to sustain? Will he crush the law to
save one criminal, or even a thousand criminals? Not if he has the spirit of a ruler
in his bosom. That guilty man if he would have mercy from the Executive must admit
the right of the law and of the penalty. Else he arrays himself against the law and
cannot be trusted in the community.
Now hear that sinner. How much he has to say against his ill desert and against the
justice of eternal punishment. He denounces the laws of God as cruelly and unrighteously
severe. Sinner, do you suppose God can forgive you while you pursue such a course?
He would as soon repeal His law and vacate His throne. You make it impossible for
God to forgive you.
- 7. No sinner can be a proper object of mercy who
is not entirely submissive to all those measures of the government that have brought
him to conviction.
- Suppose a criminal should plead that there had
been a conspiracy to waylay and arrest him; that witnesses had been bribed to give
false testimony; that the judge had charged the jury falsely, or that the jury had
given an unrighteous verdict; could he hope by such false allegations to get a pardon?
Nay, verily. Such a man cannot be trusted to sustain law and order in a community,
under any government, human or divine.
But hear that sinner complain and cavil. Why, he says, did God suffer sin and temptation
to enter this world at all? Why does God let the sinner live at all to incur a doom
so dreadful? And why does God block up the sinner's path by His providence, and cut
him down in his sins? Yet this very sinner talks about trusting in God's mercy! Indeed;
while all the time he is accusing God of being an infinite tyrant, and of seeking
to crush the helpless, unfortunate sinner! What do these cavils mean? What are they
but the uplifted voice of a guilty rebel arraigning his Maker for doing good and
showing mercy to His own rebellious creatures? For it needs but a moment's thought
to see that the temptation complained of is only a good placed before a moral agent
to melt his heart by love. Yet against this the sinner murmurs, and pours out his
complaints against God. Be assured that unless you are willing to go the full length
of justifying all God does, He never can give you pardon. God has no option to pardon
a self-justifying rebel. The interests of myraids of moral beings forbid His doing
it. When you will take the ground most fully of justifying God and condemning yourself,
you place yourself where mercy can reach you, and then it surely will. Not before.
- 8. You must close in most cordially with the plan
of salvation. This plan is based on the assumption that we deserve everlasting death
and must be saved, if ever, by sovereign grace and mercy. Nothing can save but mercy
-- mercy which meets the sinner in the dust, prostrate, without an excuse or an apology,
giving to God all the glory and taking to himself all the guilt and shame. There
is hope for thee, sinner, in embracing this plan with all the heart.
IV. We now notice some mistakes into which many
- 1. Many really trust in justice and not in mercy.
They say, "God is just -- God will do me no injustice -- I mean to do as well
as I can, and then I can safely leave myself in the hands of a just God." True,
God will do you no injustice. You never need fear that. But how terrible if God should
do you strict justice! How fearful if you get no mercy! If God does not show you
infinite mercy you are forever lost, as surely as you are a sinner! This trusting
in God's justice is a fatal rock. The sinner who can do it calmly has never seen
God's law and his own heart. The Psalmist did not say, I trust in the justice of
God forever and ever.
- 2. Many trust professedly in the mercy of God
without fulfilling the conditions on which only mercy can be shown.
- They may hold on in such trusting till they die
-- but no longer.
- 3. Sinners do not consider that God cannot dispense
with their fulfilling these conditions. He has no right to do so.
- They spring out of the very constitution of His
government, from His very nature, and must therefore be strictly fulfilled. Sooner
than dispense with their fulfillment, God would send the whole race, yea, the whole
universe, to hell. If God were to set aside these conditions and forgive a sinner
while unhumbled, impenitent, and unbelieving, He would upset His throne, convulse
the moral universe, and kindle another hell in His own bosom.
- 4. Many are defeating their own salvation by self-justification.
Pleas that excuse self, and cavils that arraign God, stand alike and fatally in the
way of pardon. Since the world began it has not been known that a sinner has found
mercy in this state.
- 5. Many pretend to trust in mercy who yet profess
to be punished for their sins as they go along. They hope for salvation through mercy,
and yet they are punished for all their sins in this life. Two more absurd and self-contradictory
things were never put together. Punished as much as they deserve here, and yet saved
through mercy! Why don't they say it out that they shall be saved after death through
justice? Surely if they are punished all they deserve as they go along, justice will
ask no more after death.
- 6. Persons who in the letter plead for mercy,
often rely really upon justice. The deep conviction of sin and ill-desert does not
sink into their soul till they realize what mercy is, and feel that they can rely
on nothing else.
- 7. Some are covering up their sins, yet dream
of going to heaven. Do they think they can hide those sins from the Omniscient Eye?
Do they think to cover their sins and yet it prosper, despite of God's awful word?
- 8. We cannot reasonably ask for mercy beyond our
acknowledged and felt guilt; and they mistake fatally who suppose that they can.
Without a deep conviction of conscious guilt we cannot be honest and in earnest in
supplicating mercy. Hear that man pray who thinks sin a trifle and its deserved punishment
a small affair. "O Lord, I need a little mercy, only a little; my sins have
been few and of small account; grant me, Lord, exemption from the brief and slight
punishment which my few errors and defects may have deserved." Or hear that
Universalist pray: "O Lord, Thou knowest that I have been punished for my sins
as I have passed along; I have had a fit of sickness and various pains and losses,
nearly or quite enough, Thou knowest, to punish all the sins I have committed; now,
therefore, I pray Thee to give me salvation through Thy great mercy." How astonishing
that sane men should hold such nonsense! How can a Universalist pray at all? What
should they pray for? Not for pardon, for on their principles they have a valid claim
to exemption from punishment on the score of justice, as the criminal has who has
served out his sentence in the State's prison. The only rational prayer that can
be made is that God will do them justice and let them off, since they have already
been punished enough. But why should they pray for this? God may be trusted to do
justice without their praying for it. I don't wonder that Universalists pray but
little; what have they to pray for? Their daily bread? Very well. But the mercy of
God they need not on their scheme, for they suffer all they deserve. Pleasing delusion;
flattering enough to human pride, but strange for rational minds and horribly pernicious!
Restoration takes substantially the same ground, only leaving a part of the penalty
to be worked out in purgatory, but claiming salvation on the ground of justice and
not mercy. Mercy can have no place in any system of Universalism. Every form of this
system arrays God in robes of justice -- inflexible, fearful justice -- yet these
men trust, they say, in the mercy of God! But what have they done with the Gospel
-- what with all the Bible says about free pardon to the guilty? They have thrust
it out of the Bible; and what have they given us instead? Only justice, justice --
punishment enough for sin in this world, or at least in a few years of purgatory:
sin a trifle -- government a mere farce -- God a liar -- hell a bugbear and a humbug!
What is all this but dire blasphemy as ever came from hell?
- If we ask for but little mercy, we shall get none
at all. This may seem strange, but is none the less true. If we get anything, we
must ask for great blessings. Suppose a man deserved to be hung, and yet asks only
for a little favor; suppose he should say so, can he be forgiven? No. He must confess
the whole of his guilt in its full and awful form, and show that he feels it in his
very soul. So, sinner, must you come and confess your whole guilt as it is, or have
no mercy. Come and get down, low, lower, infinitely low before God, and take mercy
there. Hear that Universalist. All he can say at first is, "I thank God for
a thousand things." But he begins to doubt whether this is quite enough. Perhaps
he needs a little more punishment than he has suffered in this life; he sees a little
more guilt; so he prays that God would let him off from ten years of deserved punishment
in hell. And if he sees a little more guilt, he asks for a reprieve from so much
more of punishment. If truth flashes upon his soul and he sees his own heart and
life in the light of Jehovah's law, he gets down lower and lower, as low as he can,
and pours out his prayer that God would save him from that eternal hell which he
deserves. "O," he cries out, "can God forgive so great a sinner!"
Yes, and by so much the more readily, by how much the more you humble yourself, and
by how much the greater mercy you ask and feel that you need. Only come down and
take such a position that God can meet you. Recollect the prodigal son, and that
father running, falling on his neck, weeping, welcoming, forgiving! O! how that father's
heart gushed with tenderness!
It is not the greatness of your sins, but your pride of heart that forbids your salvation.
It is not anything in your past life, but it is your present state of mind that makes
your salvation impossible. Think of this.
You need not wait to use means with God to persuade Him to save you. He is using
means with you to persuade you to be saved. You act as if God could scarcely be moved
by any possible entreaties and submissions to exercise mercy. Oh, you do not see
how His great heart beats with compassion and presses the streams of mercy forth
in all directions, pouring the river of the waters of life at your very feet, creating
such a pressure of appeal to your heart that you have to brace yourself against it,
lest you should be persuaded to repent. O, do you see how God would fain persuade
you and break your heart in penitence, that He may bring you where He can reach you
with forgiving mercy -- where He can come and bless you without resigning His very
To deny your desert of endless punishment is to render your salvation utterly impossible.
God never can forgive you on this ground, because you are trying to be saved on the
score of justice. You could not make your damnation more certain than you thus make
it, if you were to murder every man you meet. You tie up the hands of mercy and will
not let her pluck you from the jaws of death. It is as if your house were on fire
and you seize your loaded rifle to shoot down every man that comes with his bucket
to help you. You stand your ground amid the raging element until you sink beneath
the flames. Who can help you? What is that man doing who is trying to make his family
believe Universalism? It is as if he would shoot his rifle at the very heart of Mercy
every time she comes in view. He seems determined to drive off Mercy, and for this
end plies all the enginery of Universalism and throws himself into the citadel of
this refuge of lies! O! what a work of death is this! Mercy shall not reach him or
his family; so he seems determined -- and Mercy cannot come. See how she bends from
heaven -- Jehovah smiles in love -- and weeps in pity -- and bends from the very
clouds and holds out the pierced hand of the crucified One. But no! I don't deserve
the punishment; away with the insult of a pardon offered through mere mercy! What
can be more fatal, more damning, more ruinous to the soul?
You see very clearly why all are not saved. It is not because God is not willing
to save all, but because they defeat the efforts God makes to save them. They betake
themselves to every possible refuge and subterfuge; resist conviction of guilt, and
repel every call of mercy. What ails those young men? What are they doing? Has God
come down in His red wrath and vengeance, that they should rally all their might
to oppose Him? O, no, He has only come in mercy -- this is all -- and they are fighting
against His mercy, not His just retributions of vengeance. If this were His awful
arm of vengeance you would bow right soon or break beneath its blow. But God's mercy
comes in its soft whispers (would you but realize it) -- it comes to win your heart;
and what are you doing? You band yourselves together to resist its calls -- you invent
a thousand excuses -- you run together to talk, and talk away all solemn thought
-- you run to some infidel or Universalist to find relief for an uneasy conscience.
Ah, sinner, this can do you no good. You flee away from God -- why? What's the matter?
Is God pouring down the floods of His great wrath? No, no; but Mercy has come, and
would fain gather you under her outspread wings where storms of wrath can never come.
But no, the sinner pleads against it -- cavils, runs, fights, repels the angel of
mercy -- dashes from his lips the waters of life. Sinner, this scene is soon to close.
The time is short. Soon God comes -- death shakes his dart -- that young man is sick
-- hear his groans. Are you going to die, my young friend? Are you ready? O, I don't
know; I am in great pain. O! O! how can I live so? Alas, how can I die? I can't attend
to it now -- too late -- too late! Indeed, young man, you are in weakness now. God's
finger has touched you. O, if I could only tell you some of the death-bed scenes
which I have witnessed -- if I could make you see them, and hear the deep wailings
of unutterable agony as the soul quivered, shuddered, and fain would shrink away
into annihilation from the awful eye -- and was swept down swift to hell! Those are
the very men who ran away from mercy! Mercy could not reach them, but death can.
Death seizes its victim. See, he drags the frightened, shrieking soul to the gate-way
of hell; how that soul recoils -- groans -- what an unearthly groan -- and he is
gone! The sentence of execution has gone out and there is no reprieve. That sinner
would not have mercy when he might; now he cannot when he would. All is over now.
Dying sinner, you may just as well have mercy today as not. All your past sins present
no obstacle at all if you only repent and take the offered pardon. Your God proffers
you life. "As I live," saith the Lord, "I have no pleasure in your
death; turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?" Why will you reject such offered
life? And will you still persist? Be astonished, O ye heavens! Indeed, if there ever
was anything that filled the universe with astonishment, it is the sinner's rejection
of mercy. Angels were astonished when they saw the Son of God made flesh, and when
they saw Him nailed to a tree -- how much more now to see the guilty sinner, doomed
to hell, yet spurning offered pardon! What do they see! That sinner putting off and
still delaying and delaying still, until -- what? Until the last curtain falls, and
the great bell tolls, tolls, tolls the awful knell of the sinner's death eternal!
Where is that sinner? Follow him -- down he goes, weeping, wailing, along the sides
of the pit -- he reaches his own final home; in "his own place" now and
forevermore! Mercy followed him to the last verge of the precipice, and could no
longer. She has done her part.
What if a spirit from glory should come and speak to you five minutes -- a relative,
say -- perhaps your mother -- what would she say? Or a spirit from that world of
despair -- O could such a one give utterance to the awful realities of that prison
house, what would he say? Would he tell you that the preacher has been telling you
lies? Would he say, Don't be frightened by these made-up tales of horror? O, no,
but that the half has not been told you and never can be. O, how he would press you,
if he might, to flee from the wrath to come!
SERMON III. Back to Top
THE WAGES OF SIN.
"The wages of sin is death." -- Romans 6:23.
THE death here spoken of is that which is due as
the penal sanction of God's law.
In presenting the subject of our text, I must --
I. Illustrate the nature of sin;
II. Specify some of the attributes of the penal sanctions of God's law;
III. Show what this penalty must be.
I. Illustrate the nature of sin.
- An illustration will give us the best practical
view of the nature of sin. You have only to suppose a government established to secure
the highest well-being of the governed, and of the ruling authorities also. Supposed
the head of this government to embark all his attributes in the enterprise -- all
his wealth, all his time, all his energies -- to compass the high end of the highest
general good. For this purpose he enacts the best possible laws -- laws which, if
obeyed, will secure the highest good of both subject and Prince. He then takes care
to affix adequate penalties; else all his care and wisdom must come to naught. He
devotes to the interests of his government all he is and all he has, without reserve
But some of his subjects refuse to sympathize with this movement. They say, "Charity
begins at home," and they are for taking care of themselves in the first place;
in short, they are thoroughly selfish.
It is easy to see what this would be in a human government. The man who does this
becomes the common enemy of the government and of all its subjects. This is sin.
This illustrates precisely the case of the sinner. Sin is selfishness. It sets up
a selfish end, and to gain it uses selfish means; so that in respect to both its
end and its means, it is precisely opposed to God and to all the ends of general
happiness which He seeks to secure. It denies God's rights; discards God's interests.
Each sinner maintains that his own will shall be the law. The interest he sets himself
to secure is entirely opposed to that proposed by God in His government.
All law must have sanctions. Without sanctions it would be only advice. It is therefore
essential to the distinctive and inherent nature of law that it have sanctions.
These are either remuneratory or vindicatory. They promise reward for obedience,
and they also threaten penalty for disobedience. They are vindicatory, inasmuch as
they vindicate the honour of the violated law.
Again, sanctions may be either natural or governmental. Often both forms exist in
other governments than the divine.
Natural penalties are those evil consequences which naturally result without any
direct interference of government to punish. Thus in all governments the disrespect
of its friends falls as a natural penalty on transgressors. They are the natural
enemies of all good subjects.
In the divine government, compunctions of conscience and remorse fall into this class,
and indeed many other things which naturally result to obedience on the one hand
and to disobedience on the other.
There should also be governmental sanctions. Every governor should manifest his displeasure
against the violation of his laws. To leave the whole question of obedience to mere
natural consequences is obviously unjust to society.
Inasmuch as governments are established to sustain law and secure obedience, they
are bound to put forth their utmost energies in this work.
Another incidental agency of government under some circumstances is that which we
call discipline. One object of discipline is to go before the infliction of penalty,
and force open unwilling eyes, to see that law has a government to back it up, and
the sinner a fearful penalty to fear. Coming upon men during their probation, while
as yet they have not seen or felt the fearfulness of penalty, it is designed to admonish
them -- to make them think and consider. Thus its special object is the good of the
subject on whom it falls and of those who may witness its administration. It does
not propose to sustain the dignity of law by exemplary inflictions. This belongs
exclusively to the province of penalty. Discipline, therefore, is not penal in the
sense of visiting crime with deserved punishment, but aims to dissuade the subject
of law from violating its precepts.
Disciplinary agency could scarcely exist under a government of pure law, for the
reason that such a government cannot defer the infliction of penalty. Discipline
presupposes a state of suspended penalty. Hence penal inflictions must be broadly
distinguished from disciplinary.
We are sinners, and therefore have little occasion to dwell on the remuneratory features
of God's government. We can have no claim to remuneration under law, being precluded
utterly by our sin. But with the penal features we have everything to do. I therefore
proceed to enquire. --
II. What are the attributes of the penal sanctions
of God's law?
- God has given us reason. This affirms intuitively
and irresistibly all the great truths of moral government. There are certain attributes
which we know must belong to the moral law, e.g., one is intrinsic justice. Penalty
should threaten no more and no less than is just. Justice must be an attribute of
God's law; else the whole universe must inevitably condemn it.
Intrinsic justice means and implies that the penalty be equal to the obligation violated.
The guilt of sin consists in its being a violation of obligation. Hence the guilt
must be in proportion to the magnitude of the obligation violated, and consequently
the penalty must be measured by this obligation.
Governmental justice is another attribute. This feature of law seeks to afford security
against transgression. Law is not governmentally just unless its penalty be so graduated
as to afford the highest security against sin which the nature of the case admits.
Suppose under any government the sanctions of law are trifling, not at all proportioned
to the end to be secured. Such a government is unjust to itself, and to the interests
it is committed to maintain. Hence a good government must be governmentally just,
affording in the severity of its penalties and the certainty of their just infliction,
the highest security that its law shall be obeyed.
Again, penal sanctions should be worthy of the end aimed at by the law and by its
author. Government is only a means to an end, this proposed end being universal obedience
and its consequent happiness. If law is indispensable for obtaining this end, its
penalty should be graduated accordingly.
Hence the penalty should be graduated by the importance of the precept. If the precept
be of fundamental importance -- of such importance that disobedience to it saps the
very existence of all government -- then it should be guarded by the greatest and
most solemn sanctions. The penalties attached to its violation should be of the highest
Penalty should make an adequate expression of the lawgiver's views of the value of
the end he proposes to secure by law; also of his views of the sacredness of his
law; also of the intrinsic guilt of disobedience. Penalty aims to bring forth the
heart of the lawgiver -- to show the earnestness of his desire to maintain the right,
and to secure that order and well-being which depend on obedience. In the greatness
of the penalty the lawgiver brings forth his heart and pours the whole influence
of his character upon his subjects.
The object of executing penalty is precisely the same; not to gratify revenge, as
some seem to suppose, but to act on the subjects of government with influences toward
obedience. It has the same general object as the law itself has.
Penal sanctions should be an adequate expression of the lawgiver's regard for the
public good and of his interest in it. In the precept he gave some expression; in
the penalty, he gives yet more. In the precept we see the object in view and have
a manifestation of regard for the public interests; in the penalty, we have a measure
of this regard, showing us how great it is. For example, suppose a human law were
to punish murder with only a trifling penalty. Under the pretence of being very tender-hearted,
the lawgiver amerces this crime of murder with a fine of fifty cents! Would this
show that he greatly loved his subjects and highly valued their life and interests?
Far from it. You cannot feel that a legislator has done his duty unless he shows
how much he values human life, and unless he attaches a penalty commensurate in some
good degree with the end to be secured.
One word as to the infliction of capital punishment in human governments. There is
a difference of opinion as to which is most effective, solitary punishment for life,
or death. Leaving this question without remark, I have it to say that no man ever
doubted that the murderer deserves to die. If some other punishment than death is
to be preferred, it is not by any means because the murderer does not deserve death.
No man can doubt this for a moment. It is one of the unalterable principles of righteousness,
that if a man sacrifices the interest of another, he sacrifices his own; an eye for
an eye; life for life.
We cannot but affirm that no government lays sufficient stress on the protection
of human life unless it guards this trust with its highest penalties. Where life
and all its vital interests are at stake, there the penalty should be great and solemn
as is possible.
Moral agents have two sides to their sensibility; hope and fear; to which you may
address the prospect of good and the dread of evil. I am now speaking of penalty.
This is addressed only to fear.
I have said in substance that penalty should adequately assert and vindicate the
rightful authority of the lawgiver; should afford if possible an adequate rebuke
of sin and should be based on a just appreciation of its nature. God's moral government
embraces the whole intelligent universe, and stretches with its vast results onward
through eternity. Hence the sweep and breadth of its interests are absolutely unlimited,
and consequently the penalties of its law, being set to vindicate the authority of
this government and to sustain these immeasurable interests, should be beyond measure
dreadful. If anything beyond and more dreadful than the threatened penalty could
be conceived, all minds would say, "This is not enough." With any just
views of the relations and the guilt of sin, they could not be satisfied unless the
penalty is the greatest that is conceivable. Sin is so vile, so mischievous, so terribly
destructive and so far-sweeping in its ruin, moral agents could not feel that enough
is done so long as more can be.
III. What is the penalty of God's moral law?
- Our text answers, "death." This certainly
is not animal death, for saints die and animals also, neither of whom can be receiving
the wages of sin. Besides, this would be no penalty if, after its infliction, men
went at once to heaven. Such a penalty, considered as the wages of sin, would only
be an insult to God's government.
Again, it cannot be spiritual death, for this is nothing else than a state of entire
disobedience to the law. You cannot well conceive anything more absurd than to punish
a man for disobedience by subjecting him to perpetual disobedience -- an effort to
sustain the law by dooming such offenders to its perpetual violation -- and nothing
But this death is endless misery, corresponding to the death-penalty in human governments.
Everybody knows what this is. It separates the criminal from society forever; debars
him at once and utterly from all the privileges of the government, and consigns him
over to hopeless ruin. Nothing more dreadful can be inflicted. It is the extreme
penalty, fearful beyond any other that is possible for man to inflict.
There can be no doubt that death as spoken of in our text is intended to correspond
to the death-penalty in human governments.
You will also observe that in our text the "gift of God" which is "eternal
life through Jesus Christ our Lord," is directly contrasted with death, the
wages of sin. This fact may throw light on the question respecting the nature of
this death. We must look for the antithesis of "eternal life."
Now this eternal life is not merely an eternal existence. Eternal life never means
merely an eternal existence, in any case where it is used in Scripture; but it does
mean a state of eternal blessedness, implying eternal holiness as its foundation.
The use of the term "life" in Scripture in the sense of real life -- a
life worth living i.e., real and rich enjoyment, is so common as to supersede the
necessity of special proof.
The penalty of death is therefore the opposite of this viz., eternal misery.
I must here say a few words upon the objections raised against this doctrine of eternal
All the objections I have ever heard amount only to this, that it is unjust. They
may be expressed in somewhat various phraseology, but this is the only idea which
they involve, of any moment at all.
- (1.) It is claimed to be unjust because "life
is so short."
- How strangely men talk! Life so short, men have
not time to sin enough to deserve eternal death! Do men forget that one sin incurs
the penalty due for sinning? How many sins ought it to take to make one transgression
of the law of God? Men often talk as if they supposed it must require a great many.
As if a man must commit a great many murders before he has made up the crime of murder
enough to fall under the sentence of the court! What? shall a man come before the
court and plead that although he has broken the law to be sure, yet he has not lived
long enough, and has not broken the law times enough, to incur its penalty? What
court on earth ever recognized such a plea as proving any other than the folly and
guilt of him who made it?
- (2.) It is also urged that "man is so small,
so very insignificant a being that he cannot possibly commit an infinite sin."
What does this objection mean? Does it mean that sin is an act of creation, and to
be measured therefore by the magnitude of that something which it creates? This would
be an exceedingly wild idea of the nature of sin. Does the objection mean that man
cannot violate an obligation of infinite strength? Then his meaning is simply false,
as everybody must know. Does he imply that the guilt of sin is not to be measured
by the obligation violated? Then he knows not what he says, or wickedly denies known
truth. What? man so little that he cannot commit much sin! Is this the way we reason
in analogous cases? Suppose your child disobeys you. He is very much smaller than
you are! But do you therefore exonerate him from blame? Is this a reason which nullifies
his guilt? Can no sin be committed by inferiors against their superior? Have sensible
men always been mistaken in supposing that the younger and smaller are sometimes
under obligations to obey the older and the greater? Suppose you smite down the magistrate;
suppose you insult, or attempt to assassinate the king -- is this a very small crime,
almost too excusable to be deemed a crime at all, because forsooth, you are in a
lower position and he in a higher? You say, "I am so little, so very insignificant!
How can I deserve so great a punishment?" Do you reason so in any other case
except your own sins against God? Never.
- (3.) Again, some men say, "Sin is not an
infinite evil." This language is ambiguous. Does it mean that sin would not
work infinite mischief if suffered to run on indefinitely? This is false, for if
only one soul were ruined by it, the mischief accruing from it would be infinite.
Does it mean that sin is not an infinite evil, as seen in its present results and
relations? Suppose this admitted; it proves nothing to our purpose, for it may be
true that the sum total of evil results from each single sin will not all be brought
out in any duration less than eternity. How then can you measure the evil of sin
by what you see today?
- But there are still other considerations to show
that the penalty of the law must be infinite. Sin is an infinite natural evil. It
is so in this sense, that there are no bounds to the natural evil it would introduce
if not governmentally restrained.
If sin were to ruin but one soul, there could be no limit set to the evil it would
Again, sin involves infinite guilt, for it is a violation of infinite obligation.
Here it is important to notice a common mistake, growing out of confusion of ideas
about the ground of obligation. From this, result mistakes in regard to what constitutes
the guilt of sin. Here I might show that when you misapprehend the ground of obligation,
you will almost of necessity misconceive the nature and extent of sin and guilt.
Let us recur to our former illustration. Here is a government, wisely framed to secure
the highest good of the governed and of all concerned. Whence arises the obligation
to obey? Certainly from the intrinsic value of the end sought to be secured. But
how broad is this obligation to obey; or, in other words, what is its true measure?
I answer, it exactly equals the value of the end which the government seeks to secure,
and which obedience will secure, but which sin will destroy. By this measure of God
the penalty must be graduated. By this the lawgiver must determine how much sanction,
remuneratory and vindicatory, he must attach to his law in order to meet the demands
of justice and benevolence.
Now God's law aims to secure the highest universal good. Its chief and ultimate end
is not, strictly speaking, to secure supreme homage to God, but rather to secure
the highest good of all intelligent moral beings -- God, and all His creatures. So
viewed, you will see that the intrinsic value of the end to be sought is the real
ground of obligation to obey the precept. The value of this end being estimated,
you have the value and strength of the obligation.
This is plainly infinite in the sense of being unlimited. In this sense we affirm
obligation to be without limit. The very reason why we affirm any obligation at all
is that the law is good and is the necessary means of the highest good of the universe.
Hence the reason why we affirm any penalty at all compels us to affirm the justice
and necessity of an infinite penalty. We see that intrinsic justice must demand an
infinite penalty for the same reason that it demands any penalty whatever. If any
penalty be just, it is just because law secures a certain good. If this good aimed
at by the law be unlimited in extent, so must be the penalty. Governmental justice
thus requires endless punishment; else it provides no sufficient guaranty for the
Again, the law not only designs but tends to secure infinite good. Its tendencies
are direct to this end. Hence its penalty should be infinite. The law is not just
to the interests it both aims and tends to secure unless it arms itself with infinite
Nothing less than infinite penalty can be an adequate expression of God's view of
the value of the great end on which His heart is set. When men talk about eternal
death being too great a penalty for sin, what do they think of God's efforts to restrain
sin all over the moral universe? What do they think of the death of His well-beloved
Son? Do they suppose it possible that God could give an adequate or a corresponding
expression to His hatred of sin by any penalty less than endless?
Nothing less could give an adequate expression to His regard for the authority of
law. O, how fearful the results and how shocking the very idea, if God should fail
to make an adequate expression of His regard for the sacredness of that law which
underlies the entire weal of all His vast kingdom!
You would insist that He shall regard the violation of His law as Universalists do.
How surely He would bring down an avalanche of ruin on all His intelligent creatures
if He were to yield to your demands! Were He to affix anything less than endless
penalty to His law, what holy being could trust the administration of His government!
His regard to the public good forbids His attaching a light or finite penalty to
His law. He loves His subjects too well. Some people have strange notions of the
way in which a ruler should express his regard for his subjects. They would have
him so tender-hearted toward the guilty that they should absorb his entire sympathy
and regard. They would allow him perhaps to fix a penalty of sixpence fine for the
crime of murder, but not much if anything more. The poor murderer's wife and children
are so precious you must not take away much of his money, and as to touching his
liberty or his life -- neither of these is to be thought of. What! do you not know
that human nature is very frail and temptable. and therefore you ought to deal very
sparingly with penalties for murder? Perhaps they would say, you may punish the murderer
by keeping him awake one night -- just one, no more; and God may let a guilty man's
conscience disturb him about to this extent for the crime of murder! The Universalists
do tell us that they will allow the most High God to give a man conscience that shall
trouble him a little if he commits murder -- a little, say for the first and perhaps
the second offence; but they are not wont to notice the fact that under this penalty
of a troubling conscience, the more a man sins, the less he has to suffer. Under
the operation of this descending scale, it will soon come to this, that a murderer
would not get so much penalty as the loss of one night's sleep. But such are the
notions that men reach when they swing clear of the affirmations of an upright reason
and of God's revealing Word.
Speaking now to those who have a moral sense to affirm the right as well as eyes
to see the operation of law, I know you cannot deny the logical necessity of the
death-penalty for the moral law of God. There is a logical clinch to every one of
these propositions which you cannot escape.
No penalty less than infinite and endless can be an adequate expression of God's
displeasure against sin and of His determination to resist and punish it. The penalty
should run on as long as there are subjects to be affected by it -- as long as there
is need of any demonstration of God's feelings and governmental course toward sin.
Nothing less is the greatest God can inflict, for He certainly can inflict an endless
and infinite punishment. If therefore the exigency demands the greatest penalty He
can inflict, this must be the penalty -- banishment from God and endless death.
But I must pass to remark that the Gospel everywhere assumes the same. It holds that
by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified before God. Indeed, it not only
affirms this, but builds its entire system of atonement and grace upon this foundation.
It constantly assumes that there is no such thing as paying the debt and canceling
obligation and therefore that the sinner's only relief is forgiveness through redeeming
Yet again, if the penalty be not endless death, what is it? Is it temporary suffering?
Then how long does it last? When does it end? Has any sinner ever got through; served
out his time and been taken to heaven? We have no testimony to prove such a case,
not the first one; but we have the solemn testimony of Jesus Christ to prove that
there never can be such a case. He tells us that there can be no passing from hell
to heaven or from heaven to hell. A great gulf is fixed between, over which none
shall ever pass. You may pass from earth to heaven, or from earth to hell; but these
two states of the future world are wide extremes, and no man or angel shall pass
the gulf that divides them.
But you answer my question -- What is the penalty? by the reply -- It is only the
natural consequences of sin as developed in a troubled conscience. Then it follows
that the more a man sins the less he is punished, until it amounts to an infinitesimal
quantity of punishment, for which the sinner cares just nothing at all. Who can believe
this? Under this system, if a man fears punishment, he has only to pitch into sinning
with the more will and energy; he will have the comfort of feeling that he can very
soon get over all his compunctions, and get beyond any penalty whatever! And do you
believe this is God's only punishment for sin? You cannot believe it.
Universalists always confound discipline with penal sanctions. They overlook this
fundamental distinction and regard all that men suffer here in this world as only
penal. Whereas it is scarcely penal at all, but is chiefly disciplinary. They ask,
What good will it do a sinner to send him to an endless hell? Is not God perfectly
benevolent; and if so, how can He have any other object than to do the sinner all
the good He can?
I reply, Punishment is not designed to do good to that sinner who is punished. It
looks to other, remoter, and far greater good. Discipline, while he was on earth,
sought mainly his personal good; penalty looks to other results. If you ask, Does
not God aim to do good to the universal public by penalty? I answer, Even so; that
is precisely what He aims to do.
Under human governments, the penalty may aim in part to reclaim. So far, it is discipline.
But the death-penalty -- after all suspension is past and the fatal blow comes, aims
not to reclaim, and is not discipline, but is only penalty. The guilty man is laid
on the great public altar and made a sacrifice for the public good. The object is
to make a fearful, terrible impression on the public mind of the evil of transgression
and the fearfulness of its consequences. Discipline looks not so much to the support
of law as to the recovery of the offender. But the day of judgment has nothing to
do with reclaiming the lost sinner. That and all its issues are purely penal. It
is strange that these obvious facts should be overlooked.
There is yet another consideration often disregarded, viz., that, underlying any
safe dispensation of discipline, there must be a moral law, sustained by ample and
fearful sanctions, to preserve the law-giver's authority and sustain the majesty
and honour of his government. It would not be safe to trust a system of discipline,
and indeed it could not be expected to take hold of the ruined with much force; if
it were not sustained by a system of law and penalty. This penal visitation on the
unreclaimed sinner must stand forever, an appalling fact, to show that justice is
realized, law vindicated, God honoured; and to make an enduring and awful impression
of the evil of sin and of God's eternal hostility against it.
We hear a great many cavils against future punishment. At these we should not so
much wonder, but for the fact that the Gospel assumes this truth, and then proposes
a remedy. One would naturally suppose the mind would shrink from those fearful conclusions
to which it is pressed when the relations of mere laws are contemplated; but when
the Gospel interposes to save, then it becomes passing strange that men should admit
the reality of the Gospel, and yet reject the law and its penalties. They talk of
grace; but what do they mean by grace? When men deny the fact of sin, there is no
room and no occasion for grace in the Gospel. Admitting nominally the fact of sin,
but virtually denying its guilt, grace is only a name. Repudiating the sanctions
of the law of God, and labouring to disprove their reality, what right have men to
claim that they respect the Gospel? They make it only a farce -- or at least a system
of amends for unreasonably severe legislation under the legal economy. Let not men
who so traduce the law assume that they honour God by applauding His Gospel!
The representations of the Bible with regard to the final doom of the wicked are
exceedingly striking. Spiritual truths are revealed by natural objects: e.g., the
gates and walls of the New Jerusalem, to present the splendours and glories of the
heavenly state. A spiritual telescope is put into our hands; we are permitted to
point it towards the glorious city "whose builder and Maker is God;" we
may survey its inner sanctuary, where the worshipping hosts praise God without ceasing.
We see their flowing robes of white -- the palms of victory in their hands -- the
beaming joy of their faces -- the manifestations of ineffable bliss in their souls.
This is heaven portrayed in symbol. Who supposes that this is intended as hyperbole?
Who arraigns these representations as extravagant in speech, as if designed to overrate
the case, or raise unwarrantable expectations? No man believes this. No man ever
brings this charge against what the Bible says of heaven. What is the object in adopting
this figurative mode of representation? Beyond question, the object is to give the
best possible conception of the facts.
Then we have the other side. The veil is lifted, and you come to the very verge of
hell to see what is there. Whereas on the one hand all was glorious, on the other
all is fearful, and full of horrors.
There is a bottomless pit. A deathless soul is cast therein -- it sinks and sinks
and sinks, going down that awful pit which knows no bottom, weeping and wailing as
it descends, and you hear its groans as they echo and re-echo from the sides of that
dread cavern of woe!
Here is another image. You have a "lake of fire and brimstone," and you
see lost sinners thrown into its waves of rolling fire; and they lash its burning
shore, and gnaw their tongues for pain. There the worm dieth not, and their fire
is not quenched, and "not one drop of water" can reach them to "cool
their tongues" -- "tormented in that flame."
What think you? Has God said these things to frighten our poor souls? Did He mean
to play on our fears for His own amusement? Can you think so? Nay, does it not rather
grieve His heart that He must build such a hell, and must plunge therein the sinners
who will not honour His law -- will not embrace salvation from sinning through His
grace? Ah, the waves of death roll darkly under the eye of the Holy and compassionate
One! He has no pleasure in the death of the sinner! But He must sustain His throne,
and save His loyal subjects if He can.
Turn to another scene. Here is a death-bed. Did you ever see a sinner die? Can you
describe the scene? Was it a friend, a relative, dear, very dear to your heart? How
long was he dying? Did it seem to you the death-agony would never end? When my last
child died, the struggle was long; O, it was fearfully protracted and agonizing --
twenty-four hours in the agonies of dissolving nature! It made me sick I could not
see it! But suppose it had continued till this time. I should long since have died
myself under the anguish and nervous exhaustion of witnessing such a scene. So would
all our friends. Who could survive to the final termination of such an awful death?
Who would not cry out, "My God, cut it short, cut it short in mercy!" When
my wife died, her death-struggles were long and heart-rending. If you had been there,
you would have cried mightily to God, "Cut it short! O, cut it short and relieve
this dreadful agony!" But suppose it had continued, on and on, by day and by
night -- day after day, through its slow moving hours, and night after night -- long
nights, as if there could be no morning. The figure of our text supposes an eternal
dying. Let us conceive such a case. Suppose it should actually occur in some dear
circle of sympathizing friends. A poor man cannot die! He lingers in the death --
agony a month, a year, five years, ten years -- till all his friends are broken down,
and fall into their graves under the insupportable horror of the scene: but still
the poor man cannot die! He outlives one generation -- then another and another;
one hundred years he is dying in mortal agony, and yet he comes no nearer to the
end! What would you think of such a scene? It would be an illustration -- that is
all -- a feeble illustration of the awful "second death!"
God would have us understand what an awful thing sin is, and what fearful punishment
it deserves. He would fain show us by such figures how terrible must be the doom
of the determined sinner. Did you ever see a sinner die? and did you not cry out
-- Surely the curse of God has fallen heavily on this world! Alas, this is only a
faint emblem of that heavier curse that comes in the "second death!"
The text affirms that death is the "wages of sin." It is just what sin
deserves. Labour earns wages, and creates a rightful claim to such remuneration.
So men are conceived as earning wages when they sin. They become entitled to their
pay. God deems Himself holden to give them their well-deserved wages.
As I have often said, I would not say one word in this direction to distress your
souls, if there were no hope and no mercy possible. Would I torment you before the
time? God forbid! Would I hold out the awful penalty before you, and tell you there
is no hope? No. I say these things to make you feel the need of escaping for your
Think of this: "the wages of sin is death!" God is aiming to erect a monument
that shall proclaim to all the universe -- Stand in awe and sin not! So that whenever
they shall look on this awful expression, they shall say -- What an awful thing sin
is! People are wont to exclaim -- O, how horrible the penalty! They are but too apt
to overlook the horrible guilt and ill-desert of sin! When God lays a sinner on his
death-bed before our eyes, He invites us to look at the penalty of sin. There he
lies, agonizing, groaning, quivering, racked with pain, yet he lives, and lives on.
Suppose he lives on in this dying state a day, a week, a month, a year, a score of
years, a century, a thousand years, a thousand ages, and still he lives on, "dying
perpetually, yet never dead:" finally, the universe passes away; the heavens
are rolled together as a scroll -- and what then? There lies that sufferer yet. He
looks up and cries out, "How long, O HOW LONG?" Like the knell of eternal
death, the answer comes down to him, "Eternally, ETERNALLY." Another cycle
of eternal ages rolls on, and again he dares to ask, how long? and again the answer
rolls back, "Eternally, ETERNALLY!" O how this fearful answer comes down
thundering through all the realms of agony and despair!
We are informed that in the final consummation of earthly scenes, "the judgment
shall sit and the books shall be opened." We shall be there, and what is more,
there to close up our account with our Lord and receive our allotment. Which will
you have on that final settlement day? The wages of sin? Do you say, "Give me
my wages -- give me my wages; I will not be indebted to Christ?" Sinner, you
shall have them. God will pay you without fail or stint. He has made all the necessary
arrangements, and has your wages ready. But take care what you do! Look again before
you take your final leap. Soon the curtain will fall, probation close, and all hope
will have perished. Where then shall I be? And you, where? On the right hand or on
The Bible locates hell in the sight of heaven. The smoke of their torment as it rises
up forever and ever, is in full view from the heights of the Heavenly City. There,
you adore and worship; but as you cast your eye afar off toward where the rich man
lay, you see what it costs to sin. There, not one drop of water can go to cool their
burning tongues. Thence the smoke of their torment rises and rises for evermore.
Take care what you do today!
Suppose you are looking into a vast crater, where the surges of molten lava boil
and roll up, and roll and swell, and ever and anon belch forth huge masses to deluge
the plains below. Once in my life, I stood in sight of Etna, and dropped my eye down
into its awful mouth. I could not forbear to cry out "tremendous, TREMENDOUS!"
There, said I, is an image of hell! O, sinner, think of hell, and of yourself thrust
into it. It pours forth its volumes of smoke and flame forever, never ceasing, never
exhausted. Upon that spectacle the universe can look and read, "The wages of
sin is death! O, sin not, since such is the doom of the unpardoned sinner!"
Think what a demonstration this is in the government of God! What an exhibition of
His holy justice, of His inflexible purpose to sustain the interests of holiness
and happiness in all His vast dominions! Is not this worthy of God, and of the sacredness
of His great scheme of moral government?
Sinner, you may now escape this fearful doom. This is the reason why God has revealed
hell in His faithful Word. And now shall this revelation, to you, be in vain and
worse than in vain?
What would you think if this whole congregation were pressed by some resistless force
close up to the very brink of hell: but just as it seemed that we are all to be pushed
over the awful brink, an angel rushes in, shouting as with seraphic trump, "Salvation
is possible -- Glory to God, GLORY TO GOD, GLORY TO GOD!"
You cry aloud -- Is it possible? Yes, yes, he cries, let me take you up in my broad,
loving arms, and bear you to the feet of Jesus, for He is mighty and willing to save!
Is all this mere talk? Oh, if I could wet my lips with the dews of heaven, and bathe
my tongue in its founts of eloquence, even then I could not describe the realities.
Christian people, are you figuring round and round to get a little property, yet
neglecting souls? Beware lest you ruin souls that can never live again! Do you say
-- I thought they knew it all? They reply to you, "I did not suppose you believed
a word of it yourselves. You did not act as if you did. Are you going to heaven?
Well, I am going down to hell! There is no help for me now. You will sometimes think
of me then, as you shall see the smoke of my woe rising up darkly athwart the glorious
heavens. After I have been there a long, long time, you will sometimes think that
I, who once lived by your side, am there. O remember, you cannot pray for me then;
but you will remember that once you might have warned and might have saved me."
O methinks, if there can be bitterness in heaven, it must enter through such an avenue
and spoil your happiness there!
SERMON IV. Back to Top
THE SAVIOUR LIFTED UP, AND THE LOOK OF FAITH.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man
be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal
life." -- John iii. 14, 15.
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (This he
said, signifying what death he should die.)" -- John xii. 32, 33.
IN order to make this subject plain, I will read
the passage referred to -- Num. xxi. 6-9. "And the Lord sent fiery serpents
among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore
the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the
LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that He take away the serpents from us.
And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery
serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is
bitten, when he looketh upon it shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and
put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when
he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived."
This is the transaction to which Christ alluded in the text. The object in both cases
was to save men from the bite of the serpent; its influence being unchecked, is the
death of the body: the effects of sin, unpardoned and uncleansed from the heart,
are the ruin of the soul. Christ is lifted up, to the end that sinners, believing
in Him, may not perish, but may have eternal life. In such a connection, to perish
cannot mean annihilation, for it must be the antithesis of eternal life, and this
is plainly much more than eternal existence. It must be eternal happiness -- real
life in the sense of exquisite enjoyment. The counterpart of this, eternal misery,
is presented under the term "perish." It is common in the Scriptures to
find a state of endless misery contrasted with one of endless happiness.
We may observe two points of analogy between the brazen serpent and Christ.
- 1. Christ must be lifted UP as the serpent was
in the wilderness. From the passage quoted above out of John xii. it is plain that
this refers to His being raised up from the earth upon His cross at His crucifixion.
- 2. Christ must be held up as a remedy for sin,
even as the brazen serpent was as a remedy for a poison. It is not uncommon in the
Bible to see sin represented as a malady. For this malady, Christ had healing power.
He professed to be able to forgive sin and to cleanse the soul from its moral pollution.
Continually did He claim to have this power and encourage men to rely upon Him and
to resort to Him for its application. In all His personal instructions He was careful
to hold up Himself as having this power, and as capable of affording a remedy for
In this respect the serpent of brass was a type
of Christ. Whoever looked upon this serpent was healed. So Christ heals not from
punishment only, for to this the analogy of healing is less pertinent -- but especially
from sinning -- from the heart to sin. He heals the soul and restores it to health.
So it was said by the announcing angel, "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for
He shall save His people from their sins." His power avails to cleanse and purify
Both Christ and the serpent were held up each as a remedy, and let it be specially
noted -- as a full and adequate remedy. The ancient Hebrews, bitten by fiery serpents,
were not to mix up nostrums of their own devising to help out the cure: it was all-sufficient
for them to look up to the remedy of God's own providing. God would have them understand
that the healing was altogether His own work. The serpent on a pole was the only
external object connected with their cure; to this they were to look, and in this
most simple way -- only by an expecting look, indicative of simple faith, they received
Christ is to be lifted up as a present remedy. So was the serpent. The cure wrought
then was present, immediate. It involved no delay.
This serpent was God's appointed remedy. So is Christ, a remedy appointed of God,
sent down from heaven for this express purpose. It was indeed very wonderful that
God should appoint a brazen serpent for such a purpose, such a remedy for such a
malady; and not less wonderful is it that Christ should be lifted up in agony and
blood, as a remedy for both the punishment and the heart-power of sin.
The brazen serpent was a divinely-certified remedy; not a nostrum gotten up as thousands
are, under high-sounding names and flaming testimonials; but a remedy prepared and
brought forth by God Himself, under His own certificate of its ample healing virtues.
So was Christ. The Father testifies to the perfect adequacy of Jesus Christ as a
remedy for sin.
Jesus Christ must now be held up from the pulpit as one crucified for the sins of
men. His great power to save lay in His atoning death.
He must not only be held up from the pulpit, but this exhibition of His person and
work must be endorsed, and not contradicted by the experience of those who behold
Suppose that in Moses' time many who looked were seen to be still dying; who could
have believed the unqualified declaration of Moses, that "every one that is
bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live?" So here in the Gospel and its
subjects. Doubtless the Hebrews had before their eyes many living witnesses who had
been bitten and yet bore the scars of those wounds; but who, by looking, had been
healed. Every such case would go to confirm the faith of the people in God's word
and in His own power to save. So Christ must be represented in His fullness, and
this representation should be powerfully endorsed by the experience of His friends.
Christ represents Himself as one ready and willing to save. This, therefore, is the
thing to be shown. This must be sustained by the testimony of His living witnesses,
as the first point of analogy is the lifting up of the object to be looked upon,
the second is this very looking itself.
Men looked upon the serpent, expecting divine power to heal them. Even those ancient
men, in that comparatively dark age, understood that the serpent was only a type,
not the very cause in itself of salvation.
So is there something very remarkable in the relation of faith to healing. Take,
for illustration, the case of the woman who had an issue of blood. She had heard
something about Jesus, and somehow had caught the idea that if she could but touch
the hem of His garment, she should be made whole. See her pressing her way along
through the crowd, faint with weakness, pale, and trembling; if you had seen her
you would perhaps have cried out, What would this poor dying invalid do?
She knew what she was trying to do. At last unnoticed of all, she reached the spot
where the Holy One stood and put forth her feeble hand and touched His garment. Suddenly
He turns Himself and asks, Who was it that touched me? Somebody touched me: who was
it? The disciples, astonished at such a question, put under such circumstances, reply
-- The multitude throng Thee on every side, and scores are touching Thee every hour;
why then ask -- Who touched me?
The fact was, somebody had touched Him with faith to be healed thereby, and He knew
that the healing virtue had gone forth from Himself to some believing heart. How
beautiful an illustration this of simple faith! And how wonderful the connection
between the faith and the healing!
Just so the Hebrews received that wonderful healing power by simply looking toward
the brazen serpent. No doubt this was a great mystery to them, yet it was none the
less a fact. Let them look; the looking brings the cure, although not one of them
can tell how the healing virtue comes. So we are really to look to Christ, and in
looking, to receive the healing power. It matters not how little we understand the
mode in which the looking operates to give us the remedy for sin.
This looking to Jesus implies that we look away from ourselves. There is to be no
mixing up of quack medicines along with the great remedy. Such a course is always
sure to fail. Thousands fail in just this way, forever trying to be healed partly
by their own stupid, self-willed works, as well as partly by Jesus Christ. There
must be no looking to man or to any of man's doings or man's help. All dependence
must be on Christ alone. As this is true in reference to pardon, so is it also in
reference to sanctification. This is done by faith in Christ. It is only through
and by faith that you get that divine influence which sanctifies the soul -- the
Spirit of God; and this in some of its forms of action was the power that healed
the Hebrews in the wilderness.
Looking to Christ implies looking away from ourselves in the sense of not relying
at all on our own works for the cure desired, not even on works of faith. The looking
is toward Christ alone as our all-prevalent, all-sufficient and present remedy.
There is a constant tendency in Christians to depend on their own doings, and not
on simple faith in Christ. The woman of the blood-issue seems to have toiled many
years to find relief before she came to Christ; had no doubt tried everybody's prescriptions,
and taxed her own ingenuity besides to its utmost capacity, but all was of no avail.
At last she heard of Jesus. He was said to do many wonderful works. She said within
herself -- This must be the promised Messiah -- who was to "bear our sicknesses"
and heal all the maladies of men. O let me rush to Him, for if I may but touch the
hem of His garment, I shall be whole. She did not stop to philosophize upon the mode
of the cure; she leaned on no man's philosophy, and had none of her own; she simply
said -- I have heard of One who is mighty to save, and I flee to Him.
So of being healed of our sins. Despairing of all help in ourselves or in any other
name than Christ's, and assured there is virtue in Him to work out the cure, we expect
it of Him and come to Him to obtain it.
Several times within the last few years, when persons have come to me with the question,
Can I anyhow be saved from my sins -- actually saved, so as not to fall again into
the same sins, and under the same temptations? I have said -- Have you ever tried
looking to Jesus? O yes.
But have you expected that you should be actually saved from sin by looking to Jesus,
and be filled with faith, love, and holiness? No; I did not expect that.
Now, suppose a man had looked at the brazen serpent for the purpose of speculation.
He has no faith in what God says about being cured by looking, but he is inclined
to try it. He will look a little and watch his feelings to see how it affects him.
He does not believe God's word, yet since he does not absolutely know but it may
be true, he will condescend to try it. This is no looking at all in the sense of
our text. It would not have cured the bitten Israelite; it cannot heal the poor sinner.
There is no faith in it.
Sinners must look to Christ with both desire and design to be saved. Salvation is
the object for which they look.
Suppose one had looked towards the brazen serpent, but with no willingness or purpose
to be cured. This could do him no good. Nor can it do sinners any good to think of
Christ otherwise than as a Saviour, and a Saviour for their own sins.
Sinners must look to Christ as a remedy for all sin. To wish to make some exception,
sparing some sins, but consenting to abandon others, indicates rank rebellion of
heart, and can never impose on the All-seeing One. There cannot be honesty in the
heart which proposes to itself to seek deliverance from sin only in part.
Sinners may look to Christ at once -- without the least delay. They need not wait
till they are almost dead under their malady. For the bitten Israelite, it was of
no use to wait and defer his looking to the serpent till he found himself in the
jaws of death. He might have said -- I am wounded plainly enough, but I do not see
as it swells much yet; I do not feel the poison spreading through my system; I cannot
look yet, for my case is not yet desperate enough; I could not hope to excite the
pity of the Lord in my present condition, and therefore I must wait. I say, there
was no need of such delay then and no use of it. Nor is there any more need or use
for it in the sinner's case now.
We must look to Christ for blessings promised, not to works, but to faith. It is
curious to see how many mistakes are made on this point. Many will have it that there
must be great mental agony, long fasting, many bitter tears and strong crying for
mercy before deliverance can be looked for. They do not seem to think that all these
manifestations of grief and distress are of not the least avail, because they are
not simple faith, nor any part of faith, nor indeed any help toward faith: nor are
they in anywise needed for the sake of acting on the sympathies of the Saviour. It
is all as if under the serpent-plague of the wilderness, men had set their wits at
work to get up quack remedies; fixing up plasters, and ointments, and plying the
system with depletions, cathartics, and purifiers of the blood. All this treatment
could avail nothing; there was but one effective cure, and if a man were only bitten
and knew it, this would be the only preparatory step necessary to his looking as
directed for his cure.
So in the case of the sinner. If he is a sinner and knows it, this constitutes his
preparation and fitness for coming to Jesus. It is all of no avail that he should
go about to get up quack prescriptions, and to mix up remedies of his own devising
with the great Remedy which God has provided. Yet there is a constant tendency in
religious efforts toward this very thing -- toward fixing up and relying upon an
indefinite multitude and variety of spiritual quack remedies. See that sinner. How
he toils and agonizes. He would compass heaven and earth to work out his own salvation,
in his own way, to his own credit, by his own works. See how he worries himself in
the multitude of his own devisings! Commonly before he arrives at simple faith, he
finds himself in the deep mire of despair. Alas, he cries, There can be no hope for
me! O! my soul is lost!
But at last the gleam of a thought breaks through the thick darkness, "possibly
Jesus can help me! If He can, then I shall live, but not otherwise, for surely there
is no help for me but in Him." There he is in his despair -- bowed in weariness
of soul, and worn out with his vain endeavors to help himself in other ways. He now
bethinks himself of help from above. "There is nothing else I can do but cast
myself utterly in all my hopelessness upon Jesus Christ. Will He receive me? Perhaps
He will; and that is enough for me to know." He thinks on a little further,
"Perhaps, yes, perhaps He will; nay, more, I think He will, for they tell me
He has done so for other sinners. I think He will -- yes, I know He will -- and here's
my guilty heart! I will trust Him -- yea, though He slay me, I will trust in Him."
Have any of you experienced anything like that?
"Perhaps He will admit my plea. Perhaps will hear my prayer."
This is as far as the sinner can dare to go at first. But soon you hear him crying
out -- He says He will; I must believe Him! Then faith gets hold and rests on promised
faithfulness, and, ere he is aware, his "soul is like the chariots of Amminadab,"
and he finds his bosom full of peace and joy as one on the borders of heaven.
- 1. When it is said in John xii., "If I be
lifted up, I will draw all men unto Me," the language is indeed universal in
form, but cannot be construed as strictly universal without being brought into conflict
with Bible truth and known facts. It is indeed only a common mode of speaking to
denote a great multitude. I will draw great numbers -- a vast "multitude that
no man can number." There is nothing here in the context or in the subject to
require the strictly universal interpretation.
- 2. This expedient of the brazen serpent was no
doubt designed to try the faith of the Israelites. God often put their faith to the
test, and often adapted His providences to educate their faith -- to draw it out
and develop it. Many things did He do to prove them. So now. They had sinned. Fiery
serpents came among them and many were poisoned and dying on every hand. God said,
Make a brazen serpent and set it upon a pole, and raise it high before the eyes of
all the people. Now let the sufferers look on this serpent and they shall live. This
put their faith to the test.
- 3. It is conceivable that many perished through
mere unbelief, although the provisions for their salvation were most abundant. We,
look at a serpent of brass -- they might say scornfully -- as if there were not humbugs
enough among the rabble, but Moses must give us yet another! Perhaps some set themselves
to philosophizing on the matter. We, they say, will much sooner trust our tried physicians
than these "old wives' fables." What philosophical connection can any man
see between looking upon a piece of brass and being healed of a serpent's bite?
- So, many now blow at the gospel. They wonder how
any healing power can come of Gospel faith. True, they hear some say they are healed,
and that they know the healing power has gone to their very soul, and they cry, "I
looked to Jesus and I was healed and made whole from that very hour." But they
count all this as mere fanatical delusion. They can see none of their philosophy
But is this fanaticism? Is it any more strange than that a man bitten of poisonous
serpents should be healed by looking at God's command on a brazen serpent?
- 4. Many are stumbled by the simplicity of the
Gospel. They want something more intelligible! They want to see through it. They
will not trust what they cannot explain. It is on this ground that many stumble at
the doctrine of sanctification by faith in Christ. It is so simple their philosophy
cannot see through it.
- Yet the analogy afforded in our text is complete.
Men are to look to Jesus that they may not perish, but may have eternal life. And
who does not know that eternal life involves entire sanctification?
- 5. The natural man always seeks for some way of
salvation that shall be altogether creditable to himself. He wants to work out some
form of self-righteousness and does not know about trusting in Christ alone. It does
not seem to him natural or philosophical.
- 6. There is a wonderful and most alarming state
of things in many churches abroad: almost no Christ in their experience. It is most
manifest that He holds an exceedingly small space in their hearts. So far from knowing
what salvation is as a thing to be attained by simply believing in Christ, they can
only give you an experience of this sort. How did you become a Christian? I just
made up my mind to serve the Lord. Is that all? That's all. Do you know what it is
to receive eternal life by simply looking to Jesus? Don't know as I understand that.
Then you are not a Christian. Christianity, from beginning to end, is received from
Christ by simple faith. Thus, and only thus, does the pardon of sin come to the soul,
and thus only can come that peace of God, passing all understanding, which lives
in the soul with faith and love. Thus sanctification comes through faith in Christ.
What, then, shall we think of that religion which
leaves Christ out of view?
Many are looking for some wonderful sign or token, not understanding that it is by
faith they are to be brought completely into sympathy with Christ and into participation
with His own life. By faith Christ unites them to Himself. Faith working by love,
draws them into living union with His own moral being. All this is done by the mind's
simply looking to Christ in faith.
When the serpent was up, no doubt many perished because they would not accept and
act upon so simple a plan of remedy. Many perished because they did not and would
not realize their danger. If they saw men cured, they would say -- We don't believe
it was done by the brazen serpent on the pole. Those men were not much poisoned --
would not have died anyhow. They assume that those who ascribe their cure to the
power of God are mistaken.
Many perished also from delay. They waited to see whether they were in danger of
dying. And still they waited -- till they were so bedizened and crazed, they could
only lie down and die.
So now in regard to the Gospel. Some are occupied with other matters more important
just now, and of course they must delay. Many are influenced by others' opinions.
They hear many stories. Such a man looked and yet lost his life. Another man did
not look and yet was saved. So men have different opinions about their professedly
Christian neighbors, and this stumbles many. They hear that some set out strong for
religion, but seem to fail. They looked as they thought, but all in vain. Perhaps
it was so; for they might have looked without real faith. Some will philosophize
till they make themselves believe it is all a delusion to look. They think they see
many pretend to look and appear to look, who yet find no healing. Who can believe
where there are so many stumbling-blocks?
These discouraging appearances drove some into despair in the wilderness, we may
suppose; and certainly we see that the same causes produce these effects here in
the case of sinners. Some think they have committed the unpardonable sin. They class
themselves among those who "having been once enlightened," "there
remains for them no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain looking for of vengeance
and fiery indignation." Some are sure it is too late for them now. Their heart
is hard as the nether mill-stone. All is dark and desolate as the grave. See him;
his very look is that of a lost soul! Ah, some of you are perhaps reasoning and disbelieving
in this very way!
Many neglected because they thought they were getting better. They saw some change
of symptoms, as they supposed. So with sinners; they feel better for going to meeting,
and indeed there is so much improvement, they take it they are undoubtedly doing
Many of the ancient Hebrews may have refused to look because they had no good hope;
because, indeed, they were full of doubts. If you had been there you would have found
a great variety of conflicting views, often even between brothers and sisters, fathers
and mothers, parents and children. Some ridicule; some are mad; some won't believe
anyhow. And must I say it -- some sinners who ought to be seeking Christ are deterred
by reasons fully as frivolous and foolish as these.
It is easy for us all to see the analogy between the manner of looking and the reasons
for not looking at the brazen serpent and to Christ the Saviour. I need not push
the analogy into its minute particulars any further. But the question for you all
now is: Do you really believe that as "Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
even so is the Son of man lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish,
but shall have eternal life." Do you understand the simple remedy of faith?
Perhaps you ask -- What were they to believe? This, that if they really looked at
the brazen serpent on the pole, they should certainly experience the needed healing.
It was God's certified remedy, and they were so to regard it. And what are you now
to believe? That Christ is the great antitype of that serpent lifted up in the wilderness,
and that you are to receive from Him by simple faith all the blessings of a full
and free salvation. By simple faith, I say, and do you understand this? Do I hear
you say to these things -- What, may I, a sinner, just fix my eye in simple faith
on Jesus? Who -- who may do this? Is it I? How can it be that I should have this
I see here today the faces of some whom I saw last fall in the meetings for inquiry.
What have you been doing? Have you been trying to work yourselves into some certain
state of mind? Are you wishing intensely that you could only feel so and so -- according
to some ideal you have in your mind? Do you understand that you are really to look
by faith, and let this look of faith be to you as the touch of the poor woman with
an issue of blood was to her dying body, believing that if you look in simple trust
He surely will receive you, and give you His divine love and peace and life and light,
and really make them pulsate through your whole moral being? Do you believe it? Nay,
don't you see that you do not believe it? Oh, but you say, "It is a great mystery!"
I am not going to explain it, nor shall I presume that I can do so, any more than
I can explain how that woman was healed by touching the hem of the Saviour's garment.
The touch in this case and the looking in that, are only the means, the media, by
which the power is to be received. The manner in which God operates is a thing of
small consequence to us; let us be satisfied that we know what we must do to secure
the operations of His divine Spirit in all things that pertain to life and godliness.
You have doubtless had confused notions of the way of salvation, perhaps contriving
and speculating, and working upon your own feelings. Now you pray, and having prayed,
you say, Now let me watch and see if this prayer has given me salvation! This course
is much as if the Hebrew people when bitten by serpents and commanded to look to
the serpent of brass, had gone about to apply here a plaster, there a blister, and
then a probe, all the time losing sight of just that one thing which God told them
would infallibly cure. Oh! why should men forget, and why not understand that all
good needed by us comes from God to simple faith? When we see any want, there is
Christ, to be received by faith alone; and His promises leave no want unprovided
Now, if this is the way of salvation, how wonderful that sinners should look every
other way but toward Christ, and should put forth all other sorts of effort except
the effort to look at once in simple faith to their Saviour! How often do we see
them discouraged and confounded, toiling so hard and so utterly in vain. No wonder
they should be so greatly misled. Go round among the churches and ask, Did you ever
expect to be saved from sin in this world? No; but you expect to be saved at death.
Inasmuch as He has been quite unsuccessful in His efforts to sanctify your soul during
your life, you think He will send death on in season to help the work through!
Can you believe this?
While Christians disown the glorious doctrine of sanctification by faith in Christ,
present, and according to each man's faith so done to him, it cannot be expected
that they will teach sinners with intelligible clearness how to look to Christ in
simple faith for pardon. Knowing so little of the power of faith in their own experience,
how can they teach others effectively, or even truthfully? Thus blind leading blind,
it is no wonder that both are found together where the Bible proverb represents both
the leaders and the led as terminating their mutual relations.
There seems to be no remedy for such a finality except for professing Christians
to become the light of the world; and for this end, to learn the meaning and know
the experience of simple faith. Faith once learned, they will experience its transforming
power, and be able to teach others the way of life.
SERMON V. Back to Top
THE EXCUSES OF SINNERS CONDEMN GOD.
"Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? Wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest
be righteous?" -- Job xl. 8.
ALTHOUGH in the main, Job had spoken correctly
of God, yet in his great anguish and perturbation under his sore trials, he had said
some things which were hasty and abusive. For these the Lord rebuked him. This rebuke
is contained in our context:
"Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said -- Shall he that contendeth with the
Almighty instruct Him? He that reproveth God, let him answer it.
"Then Job answered the Lord, and said -- Behold I am vile; what shall I answer
thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken but I will not answer;
yea, twice, but I will proceed no further.
"Then answered the Lord unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said -- Gird up thy
loins now like a man; I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. Wilt thou
also disannul my judgment? Wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?"
-- Job xl. 1-8.
It is not, however, my object to discuss the original purpose and connection of these
words, but rather to consider their present application to the case of sinners. In
pursuing this object, I shall
I. Show that every excuse for sin condemns God.
II. Consider some of these excuses in detail.
III. Show that excuse for sin adds insult to injury.
I. Every excuse for sin condemns God.
This will be apparent if we consider,
- 1. That nothing can be sin for which there is
a justifiable excuse.
- This is entirely self-evident. It therefore needs
neither elucidation nor proof.
- 2. If God condemns that for which there is a good
excuse, He must be wrong. This also is self-evident. If God condemns what we have
good reason for doing, no intelligence in the universe can justify Him.
- 3. But God does condemn all sin. He condemns it
utterly, and will not allow the least apology or excuse for it. Hence, either there
is no apology for it, or God is wrong.
- 4. Consequently, every excuse for sin charges
blame upon God, and virtually accuses Him of tyranny. Whoever pleads an excuse for
sin, therefore, charges God with blame.
II. We will consider some of these excuses,
and see whether the principles I have laid down are not just and true.
- 1. INABILITY. No excuse is more common. It is
echoed and re-echoed over every Christian land, and handed down age after age, never
to be forgotten. With unblushing face it is proclaimed that men cannot do what God
requires of them.
- Let us examine this and see what it amounts to.
God, it is said, requires what men cannot do. And does He know that men cannot do
it? Most certainly. Then He has no apology for requiring it, and the requisition
is most unreasonable. Human reason can never justify it. It is a natural impossibility.
But again, upon what penalty does God require what man cannot do? The threatened
penalty is eternal death! Yes, eternal death, according to the views of those who
plead inability as an excuse. God requires me, on pain of eternal death, to do that
which He knows I cannot do. Truly this condemns God in the worst sense. You might
just as well charge God outright with being an infinite tyrant.
Moreover, it is not for us to say whether on these conditions we shall or shall not
charge God with infinite tyranny, for we cannot help it. The law of our reason demands
Hence, those who plant themselves upon these grounds charge God with infinite tyranny.
Perhaps, sinner, you little think when you urge the excuse of inability, that you
are really arraigning God on the charge of infinite tyranny. And you, Christian,
who make this dogma of inability a part of your "orthodox" creed, may have
little noticed its blasphemous bearings against the character of God; but your failure
to notice it alters not the fact. The black charge is involved in the very doctrine
of inability, and cannot be explained out of it.
I have intimated that this charge is blasphemous against God -- and most truly. Far
be it from God to do any such thing! Shall God require natural impossibilities, and
denounce eternal death upon men for not doing what they have no natural power to
do? Never! Yet good men and bad men agree together to charge God with doing this
very thing, and doing it not once or twice only, but uniformly through all ages,
with all the race, from the beginning to the end of time! Horrible! Nothing in all
the government of God ever so insulted and abused Jehovah! Nothing was ever more
blasphemous and false! God says, "his commandments are not grievous;" but
you, by this excuse of inability, proclaim that God's words are false. You declare
that His commands are not only grievous, but are even naturally impossible! Hark!
what does the Lord Jesus say? "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
And do you deny this? Do you rise up in the very face of His words and say, "Lord,
Thy yoke is so hard that no man can possibly endure it; Thy burden is so heavy that
no man can ever bear it?" Is not this gainsaying and blaspheming Him who can
But you take the ground that no man can obey the law of God. As the Presbyterian
Confession of Faith has it, "No man is able, either by himself, or by any grace
received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but doth daily
break them in thought, word, and deed." Observe, this affirms not only that
no man is naturally able to keep God's commands, but also that no man is able to
do it "by any grace received in this life;" thus making this declaration
a libel on the Gospel as well as a palpable misrepresentation of the law of its Author,
and of man's relations to both. It is only moderate language to call this assertion
from the Confession of Faith a libel. If there is a lie, either in hell or out of
hell, this is a lie, or God is an infinite tyrant. If reason be allowed to speak
at all, it is impossible for her to say less or otherwise than thus. And has not
God constituted the reason of man for the very purpose of taking cognizance of the
rectitude of all His ways?
Let God be true though every man be proved a liar! In the present case, the remarkable
fact that no man can appease his own conscience and satisfy himself that he is truly
unable to keep the law, shows that man lies, not God.
- 2. A second excuse which sinners make is want
- Suppose I tell one of my sons, "Go, do this
or that duty, on pain of being whipped to death." He replies, "Father,
I can't possibly do it, for I have not time. I must be doing that other business
which you told me to do; and besides, if I had nothing else to do, I could not possibly
do this new business in the time you allow." Now if this statement be the truth,
and I knew it when I gave him the command, then I am a tyrant. There is no evading
this charge. My conduct toward my son is downright tyranny.
So if God really requires of you what you have not time to do, He is infinitely to
blame. For He surely knows how little time you have, and it is undeniable that He
enforces His requisitions with most terrific penalties. What! is God so reckless
of justice, so regardless of the well-being of His creatures, that He can sport with
red-hot thunder-bolts, and hurl them, despite of justice and right, among His unfortunate
creatures? Never! NEVER! This is not true; it is only the false assumption which
the sinner makes when he pleads as his excuse, that he has not time to do what God
demands of him.
Let me ask you, sinner, how much time will it take you to do the first great duty
which God requires namely, give Him your heart? How long will this take? How long
need you be in making up your mind to serve and love God? Do you not know that this,
when done, will be done in one moment of time? And how long need you be in persuading
yourself to do it?
Your meaning may be this: Lord, it takes me so long to make up my mind to serve Thee,
it seems as if I never should get time enough for this; even the whole of life seems
almost too short for me to bring my mind to this unwelcome decision. Is this your
But let us look on all sides of the subject. Suppose I say to my son, "Do this
now, my son;" and he replies, "I can't, father, for I must do that other
thing you told me to do." Does God do so? No. God only requires the duty of
each moment in its time. This is all. He only asks us to use faithfully just all
the power He has given us -- nothing more. He only requires that we do the best we
can. When He prescribes the amount of love which will please Him, He does not say
-- Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with the powers of an angel -- with the burning
heart of a seraph -- no, but only "with all thy heart" -- this is all.
An infinitely ridiculous plea is this of the sinner's, that he can not do as well
as he can -- can not love God with all his own heart, and soul, and mind, and strength.
Thou shalt do the best that thou art able to do, says God to the sinner. Ah, says
the sinner, I am not able to do that. Oh, what stupid nonsense!
You charge that God is unreasonable. The truth is, God is the most reasonable of
all beings. He asks only that we should use each moment for Him, in labour, or in
rest, whichever is most for His glory. He only requires that with the time, talents,
and strength which He has given us, we should do all we can to serve Him.
Says that mother, "How can I be religious? I have to take care of all my children."
Indeed! and can't you get time to serve God? What does God require of you? That you
should forsake and neglect your children? No, indeed; He asks you to take care of
your children -- good care of them; and do it all for God. He says to you -- Those
are my children; and He puts them into your hands, saying -- Take care of them for
Me, and I will give thee wages. And now will it require more time to take care of
your children for God, than to take care of them for yourself? O, but you say, I
cannot be religious, for I must be up in the morning and get my breakfast. And how
much longer will it take you to get your breakfast ready to please God, than to do
the same to please yourself? How much longer time must you have to do your duties
religiously, than to do them selfishly?
What, then, do you mean by this plea? The fact is, all these excuses show that the
excuser is mad -- not insane, but mad. For what does God require so great that you
should be unable to do it for want of time? Only this, that you should do all for
God. Persons who make this plea seem to have entirely overlooked the real nature
of religion, and of the requisitions that God makes of them. So it is with the plea
of inability. The sinner says, "I am unable." Unable to do what? Just what
you can do, for God never requires anything beyond this. Unless, therefore, you assume
that God requires of you more than you can do, your plea is false, and even ridiculous.
If, on the other hand, you do not assume this, then your plea, if true, would not
show God to be unjust.
But I was saying that in this plea of having no time to be religious, men entirely
overlook or pervert the true idea of religion. The farmer pleads, "I can't be
religious; I can't serve God -- I must sow my wheat." Well, sow your wheat but
do it for the Lord. O but you have so much to do! Then do it all for the Lord. Another
can't be religious for he must get his lesson. Well, get your lesson, but get it
for the Lord, and this will be religious. The man who should neglect to sow his wheat
or neglect to get his lessons because he wants to be religious, is crazy. He perverts
the plainest things in the worst way. If you are to be religious, you must be industrious.
The farmer must sow his wheat, and the student must get his lesson. An idle man can
no more be religious than the devil can be. This notion that men can't be religious,
because they have some business to do, is the merest nonsense. It utterly overlooks
the great truth that God never forbids our doing the appropriate business of life,
but only requires that we shall do all for Himself. If God did require us to serve
Him in such a way as would compel us to neglect the practical duties of life, it
would be truly a hard case. But now the whole truth is, that He requires us to do
precisely these duties, and do them all honestly and faithfully for Him, and in the
best possible manner. Let the farmer take care of his farm, and see that he does
it well, and above all, do it for God. It is God's farm, and the heart of every farmer
is God's heart, therefore let the farm be tilled for God, and the heart be devoted
to Him alone.
- 3. Men plead a sinful nature for their excuse.
And pray, what is this sinful nature? Do you mean by it that every faculty and even
the very essence of your constitution were poisoned and made sinful in Adam, and
came down in this polluted state by inheritance to you? Do you mean that you were
so born in sin that the substance of your being is all saturated with it, and so
that all the faculties of your constitution are themselves sin? Do you believe this?
- I admit if this were true, it would make out a
hard case. A hard case indeed! Until the laws of my reason are changed, it would
compel me to speak out openly and say -- Lord, this is a hard case, that Thou shouldst
make my nature itself a sinner, and then charge the guilt of its sin upon me! I could
not help saying this; the deep echoings of my inner being would proclaim it without
ceasing, and the breaking of ten thousand thunderbolts over my head would not deter
me from thinking and saying so. The reason God has given me would forever affirm
But the dogma is an utter absurdity. For, pray, what is sin? God answers, "transgression
of law." And now you hold that your nature is itself a breach of the law of
God -- nay, that it has always been a breach of God's law, from Adam to the day of
your birth; you hold that the current of this sin came down in the veins and blood
of your race -- and who made it so? Who created the veins and blood of man? From
whose hand sprang this physical constitution and this mental constitution? Was man
his own creator? Did sin do a part of the work in creating your physical and your
mental constitution? Do you believe any such thing? No, you ascribe your nature and
its original faculties to God, and upon Him, therefore, you charge the guilty authorship
of your "sinful nature."
But how strange a thing is this! If man is in fault for his sinful nature, why not
condemn man for having blue or black eyes? The fact is, sin never can consist in
having a nature, nor in what nature is; but only and alone in the bad use which we
make of our nature. This is all. Our Maker will never find fault with us for what
He has Himself done or made; certainly not. He will not condemn us, if we will only
make a right use of our powers -- of our intellect, our sensibility, and our will.
He never holds us responsible for our original nature. If you will observe, you will
find that God has given no law prescribing what sort of nature and constitutional
powers we should have. He has given no law on these points, the transgression of
which, if given, might somewhat resemble the definition of sin. But now since there
is no law about nature, nature cannot be a transgression.
Here let me say, that if God were to make a law prescribing what nature or constitution
a man must have, it could not possibly be otherwise than unjust and absurd, for the
reason that man's nature is not a proper subject for legislation, precept, and penalty,
inasmuch as it lies entirely without the pale of voluntary action, or of any action
of man at all. And yet thousands of men have held the dogma that sin consists in
great part in having a sinful nature. Yes, through long ages of past history, grave
theologians have gravely taught this monstrous dogma; it has resounded from pulpits,
and has been stereotyped for the press, and men have seemed to be never weary of
glorifying this dogma as the surest test of sound orthodoxy! Orthodoxy!! There never
was a more infamous libel on Jehovah! It would be hard to name another dogma which
more violently outrages common sense. It is nonsense -- absurd and utter NONSENSE!
I would to God that it were not even worse than nonsense! Think what mischief it
has wrought! Think how it has scandalized the law, the government, and the character
of God! Think how it has filled the mouths of sinners with excuses from the day of
its birth to this hour!
Now I do not mean to imply that the men who have held this dogma have intelligently
insulted God with it. I do not imply that they have been aware of the impious and
even blasphemous bearings of this dogma upon Jehovah. I am happy to think that some
at least have done all this mischief ignorantly. But the blunder and the mischief
have been none the less for the honest ignorance in which they were done.
- 4. Sinners, in self-excuse, say they are willing
to be Christians. They are willing, they say, to be sanctified. O yes, they are very
willing; but there is some great difficulty lying further back or something else
-- perhaps they do not know just where -- but it is somewhere, and it will not let
them become Christians.
- Now the fact is, if we are really willing, there
is nothing more which we can do. Willing is all we have to do morally in the case,
and all we can do. But the plea, as in the sinner's mouth, maintains that God requires
of us what is naturally impossible. It assumes that God requires of us something
more than right willing; and this, be it what it may, is, of course, to us, an impossibility.
If I will to move my muscles, and no motion follows, I have done all I can do; there
is a difficulty beyond my reach, and I am in no blame for its existence, or for its
impediment. Just so, if I were to will to serve God, and absolutely no effect should
follow, I have done my utmost, and God never can demand anything more. In fact, to
will is the very thing which God does require. "If there be first a willing
mind, it is accepted." Do tell me, parent, if you had told your child to do
anything, and you saw him exerting himself to the utmost, would you ask anything
more? If you should see a parent demanding and enforcing of a child more than he
could possibly do, however willing, would you not denounce that parent as a tyrant?
Certainly you would. The slave-driver, even, is not wont to beat his slave, if he
sees him willing to do all he can.
This plea is utterly false, for no sinner is willing to be any better than he actually
is. If the will is right, all is right; and universally the state of the will is
the measure of one's moral character. Those men, therefore, who plead that they are
willing to be Christians while yet they remain in their sins, talk mere nonsense.
- 5. Sinners say they are waiting God's time. A
lady in Philadelphia had been in great distress of mind for many years. On calling
to see her, I asked, "What does God require of you? What is your case?"
"Oh," said she, "God waited on me a long time before I began to seek
Him at all, and now I must wait for Him as long as He did for me. So my minister
tells me. You see, therefore, that I am waiting in great distress for God to receive
- Now what is the real meaning of this? It comes
to this; God urges me to duty, but is not ready for me to do it; He tells me to come
to the Gospel feast, and I am ready; but He is not ready to let me in.
Now does not this throw all the blame upon God? Could anything do so more completely
than this does? The sinner says, "I am ready, and willing, and waiting; but
God is not yet ready for me to stop sinning. His hour has not yet come."
When I first began to preach, I found this notion almost universal. Often, after
pressing men to duty, I have been accosted, "What, you throw all the blame upon
the sinner!" "Yes, indeed I do," would be my reply. An old lady once
met me after preaching and broke out, "What! you set men to getting religion
themselves! You tell them to repent themselves? You don't mean so, do you?"
"Indeed I do," said I. She had been teaching for many years that the sinner's
chief duty is to await God's time.
- 6. Sinners plead in excuse, that their circumstances
are very peculiar. I know my duty well enough, but my circumstances are so peculiar.
And does not God understand your circumstances? Nay, has not His providence been
concerned in making them what they are? If so, then you are throwing blame upon God.
You say, "O Lord, Thou art a hard master, for Thou hast never made any allowance
for my circumstances."
- But how much, sinner, do you really mean in making
this plea? Do you mean that your circumstances are so peculiar that God ought to
excuse you from becoming religious, at least for the present? If you do not mean
as much as this, why do you make your circumstances your excuse at all? If you do
mean this, then you are just as much mistaken as you can be. For God requires you,
despite of your circumstances, to abandon your sin. If, now, your circumstances are
so peculiar that you cannot serve God in them, you must abandon them or lose your
soul. If they are such as admit of your serving God in them, then do so at once.
But you say, "I can't get out of my circumstances." I reply, You can; you
can get out of the wickedness of them; for if it is necessary in order to serve God,
you can change them; and if not, you can repent and serve God in them.
- 7. The sinner's next excuse is that his temperament
is peculiar. "Oh," he says, "I am very nervous; or my temperament
is very sluggish -- I seem to have no sensibility." Now what does God require?
Does He require of you another or a different sensibility from your own? Or does
He require only that you should use what you have according to the law of love?
- But such is the style of a multitude of excuses.
One has too little excitement; another, too much; so neither can possibly repent
and serve God! A woman came to me, and pleaded that she was naturally too excitable,
and dared not trust herself; and therefore could not repent. Another has the opposite
trouble -- too sluggish -- scarce ever sheds a tear -- and therefore could make nothing
out of religion if he should try. But does God require you to shed more tears than
you are naturally able to shed? Or does He only require that you should serve Him?
Certainly this is all. Serve Him with the very powers He has given you. Let your
nerves be ever so excitable, come and lay those quivering sensibilities over into
the hands of God -- pour out that sensibility into the heart of God! This is all
that He requires. I know how to sympathize with that woman, for I know much about
a burning sensibility; but does God require feeling and excitement? Or only a perfect
consecration of all our powers to Himself?
- 8. But, says another, my health is so poor that
I can't go to meeting, and therefore can't be religious.
- Well, what does God require? Does He require that
you should go to all the meetings, by evening or by day, whether you have the requisite
health for it or not? Infinitely far from it. If you are not able to go to meeting,
yet you can give God your heart. If you can not go in bad weather, be assured that
God is infinitely the most reasonable being that ever existed. He makes all due allowance
for every circumstance. Does He not know all your weakness? Indeed He does. And do
you suppose that He comes into your sickroom and denounces you for not being able
to go to meeting, or for not attempting when unable, and for not doing all in your
sickness that you might do in health? No, not He; but He comes into your sick-room
as a Father. He comes to pour out the deepest compassions of His heart in pity and
in love; and why should you not respond to His loving-kindness? He comes to you and
says, "Give me your heart, my child." And now you reply, "I have no
heart." Then He has nothing to ask of you -- He thought you had; and thought,
too, that He had done enough to draw your heart in love and gratitude to Himself.
He asks, "What can you find in all my dealings with you that is grievous? If
nothing, why do you bring forward pleas in excuse for sin that accuse and condemn
- 9. Another excuse is in this form, "My heart
is so hard, that I can not feel." This is very common, both among professors
and non-professors. In reality it is only another form of the plea of inability.
In fact, all the sinner's excuses amount only to this, "I am unable, I can't
do what God requires." If the plea of a hard heart is any excuse at all, it
must be on the ground of real inability.
- But what is hardness of heart? Do you mean that
you have so great apathy of the sensibility that you can not get up any emotion?
Or, do you mean that you have no power to will or to act right? Now on this point,
it should be considered that the emotions are altogether involuntary.
They go and come according to circumstances, and therefore are never required by
the law of God, and are not, properly speaking, either religion itself, or any part
of it. Hence, if by a hard heart you mean a dull sensibility, you mean what has no
concern with the subject. God asks you to yield your will, and consecrate your affections
to Himself, and He asks this, whether you have any feeling or not.
Real hardness of heart, in the Bible use of the phrase, means stubbornness of will.
So in the child, a hard heart means a will set in fixed stubbornness against doing
its parent's bidding. The child may have in connection with this, either much or
little emotion. His sensibilities may be acute and thoroughly aroused, or they may
be dormant; and yet the stubborn will may be there in either case.
Now the hardness of heart of which God complains in the sinner is precisely of this
sort. The sinner cleaves to his self-indulgence, and will not relinquish it, and
then complains of hardness of heart. What would you think of a child, who, when required
to do a most reasonable thing, should say, "My heart is so hard, I can't yield."
"O," he says, "my will is so set to have my own way that I cannot
possibly yield to my father's authority."
This complaint is extremely common. Many a sinner makes it, who has been often warned,
often prayed with and wept over, who has been the subject of many convictions. And
does he really mean by this plea that he finds his will so obstinate that he can
not make up his mind to yield to God's claims? Does he mean this, and does he intend
really to publish his own shame? Suppose you go to the devils in hell, and press
on them the claims of God, and they should reply, "O, my heart is so hard, I
can't" -- what would be their meaning? Only this: I am so obstinate -- my will
is so set in sin, that I can not for a moment indulge the thought of repentance.
This would be their meaning, and if the sinner tells the truth of himself, and uses
language correctly, he must mean the same. But oh, how does he add insult to injury
by this declaration! Suppose a child should plead this -- I can not find it in my
heart to love my father and my mother; my heart is so hard towards them; I never
can love them; I can feel pleasure only in abusing them, and trampling down their
authority. What a plea is this? Does not this heap insult upon wrong? Or suppose
a murderer arraigned before the court, and permitted before his sentence to speak,
if he had ought to say why sentence should not be passed: suppose he should rise
and say, "May it please the court, my heart for a long time has been as hard
as a millstone. I have murdered so many men, and have been in the practice so long,
that I can kill a man without the least compunction of conscience. Indeed, I have
such an insatiable thirst for blood that I can not help murdering whenever I have
a good opportunity. In fact, my heart is so hard that I find I like this employment
full as well as any other."
Well, how long will the court listen to such a plea? "Hold there! hold!"
the judge would cry, "you infamous villain, we can hear no more such pleas!
Here, sheriff, bring in a gallows, and hang the man within these very walls of justice,
for I will not leave the bench until I see him dead! He will murder us all here in
this house if he can!"
Now what shall we think of the sinner who says the same thing? O God, he says, my
heart is so hard I never can love Thee. I hate Thee so sincerely I never can make
up my mind to yield this heart to Thee in love and willing submission.
Sinners, how many of you (in this house) have made this plea, "My heart is so
hard, I can't repent. I can't love and serve God!" Go write it down; publish
it to the universe -- make your boast of being so hard-hearted that no claims of
God can ever move you. Methinks if you were to make such a plea, you would not be
half through before the whole universe would hiss you from their presence and chase
you from the face of these heavens till you would cry out for some rocks or mountains
to hide you from their scathing rebukes! Their voice of indignation would rise up
and ring along the arch of heaven like the roar of ten thousand tornadoes, and whelm
you with unutterable confusion and shame! What, do you insult and abuse the Great
Jehovah? Oh! do you condemn that very God who has watched over you in unspeakable
love -- fanned you with His gentle zephyrs in your sickness -- feasted you at His
own table, and you would not thank Him, or even notice His providing hand? And then
when the sympathy of your Christian friends has pressed you with entreaties to repent,
and they have made you a special subject of their prayers -- when angels have wept
over you, and unseen spirits have lifted their warning voices in your pathway to
hell -- you turn up your face of brass towards Jehovah, and tell Him your heart is
so hard you can't repent, and don't care whether you ever do or not! You seize a
spear and plunge it into the heart of the crucified One, and then cry out, "I
can't be sorry, not I; my heart is hard as a stone! I don't care, and I will not
repent. What a wretch you are, sinner, if this is your plea.
But what does your plea amount to? Only this -- that your heart is fully set to do
evil. The sacred writer has revealed your case most clearly, "Because vengeance
against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of
men is fully set in them to do evil." You stand before the Lord just in this
daring, blasphemous attitude fully set in your heart to do evil.
- 10. Another form of the same plea is, My heart
is so wicked I can't. Some do not hesitate to avow this wickedness of heart. What
do they mean by it? Do they mean that they are so hardened in sin, and so desperately
wicked, that they will not bow? This is the only proper sense of their language,
and this is the precise truth.
- Since you bring this forward, sinner, as your
excuse, your object must be to charge this wickedness of heart upon God. Covertly,
perhaps, but really, you imply that God is concerned in creating that wicked heart!
This is it, and this is the whole of it. You would feel no interest in the excuse,
and it would never escape your lips but for this tacit implication that God is in
fault for your wicked heart. This is only the plea of inability, coupled with its
twin sister, original sin, coming down in the created blood and veins of the race,
under the Creator's responsibility.
- 11. Another kindred plea is My heart is so deceitful.
Suppose a man should make this excuse for deceiving his neighbour, "I can't
help cheating you. I can't help lying to you and abusing you; my heart is so deceitful!"
Would any man in his senses ever suppose that this could be an apology or excuse
for doing wrong? Never. Of course, unless the sinner means in this plea to set forth
his own guilt and condemn himself, he must intend it as some sort of justification;
and, if so, he must, in just so far, cast the blame upon God. And this is usually
his intention. He does not mean sincerely to confess his own guilt; no, he charges
the guilt of his deceitful heart upon God.
- 12. Another excuses himself by the plea, I have
tried to become a Christian. I have done all I can do; I have tried often, earnestly,
- You have tried, then, you say, to be a Christian;
what is being a Christian? Giving your heart to God. And what is giving your heart
to God? Devoting your voluntary powers to Him; ceasing to live for yourself and living
for God. This is being a Christian -- the state you profess to have been trying to
No excuse is more common than this. And what is legitimately implied in this trying
to be a Christian? A willingness to do your duty is always implied; that the heart,
that is, the will is right already; and the trying refers only to the...
...such a God! Why not say with the man who dreamed that he was just going to hell,
and as he was parting with his brother -- going, as his dream had it, to heaven,
he said, "I am going down to hell, but I want you to tell God from me that I
am greatly obliged to Him for ten thousand mercies which I never deserved; He has
never done me the least injustice; give Him my thanks for all the unmerited good
He has done me." At this point he awoke, and found himself bathed in tears of
repentance and gratitude to his Father in heaven. O, if men would only act as reasonably
as that man dreamed, it would be noble -- it would be right. If, when they suppose
themselves to have sinned away the day of grace, they would say, "I know God
is good -- I will at least send Him my thanks -- He has done me no injustice."
If they would take this course they might have at least the satisfaction of feeling
that it is a reasonable and a fit one in their circumstances. Sinner, will you do
- 14. Another, closely pressed, says, "I have
offered to give my heart to Christ, but He won't receive me. I have no evidence that
He receives me or ever will." In the last inquiry meeting, a young woman told
me she had offered to give her heart to the Lord, but He would not receive her. This
was charging the lie directly upon Christ, for He has said, "Him that cometh
to Me, I will in no wise cast out." You say, I came and offered myself, and
He would not receive me. Jesus Christ says, "Behold I stand at the door and
knock; if any man" -- not if some particular, some favoured one -- but if any
man "hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him." And yet when
you offered Him your heart, did He spurn you away? Did He say -- Away, sinner, BEGONE?
No, sinner, He never did it, never. He has said He never would do it. His own words
are, "Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out." "He that
seeketh, findeth: to him that knocketh it shall be opened." But you say, I have
sought and I did not find. Do you mean to make out that Jesus Christ is a liar? Have
you charged this upon Him to His very face? Do you make your solemn affirmation,
"Lord, I did seek -- I laid myself at Thy gate and knocked -- but all in vain?"
And do you mean to bring this excuse of yours as a solemn charge of falsehood against
Jesus Christ and against God? This will be a serious business with you before it
is done with.
- 15. But another says, "There is no salvation
for me." Do you mean that Christ has made no atonement for you? But He says,
He tasted death for every man. It is declared that God so loved the world that He
gave His only begotten Son that whomsoever believeth on Him shall have eternal life.
And now do you affirm that there is no salvation provided and possible for you? Are
you mourning all your way down to hell because you cannot possibly have salvation?
When the cup of salvation is placed to your lips, do you dash it away, saying, That
cannot be for me? And do you know this? Can you prove it even against the word of
God Himself? Stand forth, then, if there be such a sinner on this footstool of God
-- speak it out, if you have such a charge against God, and if you can prove it true.
Ah, is there no hope? none at all? Oh, the difficulty is not that there is no salvation
provided for and offered to you, but that there is no heart for it. "Wherefore
is there a price put into the hands of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart
- 16. But perhaps you say in excuse, "I cannot
change my own heart." Cannot? Suppose Adam had made this excuse when God called
him to repent after his first sin. "Make you a new heart and a right spirit,"
said the Lord to him. "I cannot change my own heart myself," replies Adam.
Indeed, responds his Maker, how long is it since you changed your heart yourself?
You changed it a few hours ago from holiness to sin, and will you tell your Creator
that you can't change it from sin to holiness?
- The sinner should consider that the change of
heart is a voluntary thing. You must do it for yourself or it is never done. True,
there is a sense in which God changes the heart, but it is only this: God influences
the sinner to change, and then the sinner does it. The change is the sinner's own
- 17. You say, again, you can't change your heart
without more conviction. Do you mean by this that you have not knowledge enough of
your duty and your sin? You cannot say this. You do know your sin and your duty.
You know you ought to consecrate yourself to God. What, then, do you mean? Can't
you do that which you know you ought to do? Ah, there is the old lie -- that shameless
refuge of lies -- that same foul dogma of inability. What is implied in this new
form of it? This -- that God is not willing to convict you enough to make it possible
for you to repent. There is a work and a responsibility for God, and He will not
do His work -- will not bear His responsibility. Hence, you, alas, have no alternative
but to go down to hell. And because God will not do His part towards your salvation!
Do you really believe that, sinner?
- 18. Again, you say in excuse, that you must first
have more of the Spirit. And yet you resist the Spirit every day. God offers you
His Spirit, nay, more, God bestows His Spirit but you resist it. What, then, do you
mean when you pretend to want more of the Spirit's influence?
- The truth is, you do not want it -- you only want
to make it appear that God does not do His part to help you to repent, and that as
you can't repent without His help, therefore the blame of your impenitence rests
on God. It is only another refuge of lies -- another form of the old slander upon
God -- He has made me unable and won't help me out of my inability.
- 19. The sinner also excuses himself by saying
-- God must change my heart. But in the sense in which God requires you to do it,
He cannot do it Himself. God is said to change the heart only in the sense of persuading
you to do it. As in a man's change of politics, one might say, "Such a man changed
my heart -- he brought me over," which, however, by no means implies that you
did not change your own mind. The plain meaning is that he persuaded, and you yielded.
- But this plea made by the sinner as his excuse
implies that there is something more for God to do before the sinner can become religious.
I have heard many professors of religion take this very ground. Yes, thousands of
Christian ministers, too, have said to the sinner, "Wait for God. He will change
your heart in His own good time; you can't do it yourself, and all that you can do
is to put yourself in the way for the Lord to change your heart. When this time comes,
He will give you a new heart, while you are asleep, perhaps, in a state of unconsciousness.
God acts in this matter as a sovereign, and does His own work in His own way."
So they teach -- filling the mouth of the sinner with excuses and making his heart
like an adamant against the real claims of God upon his conscience.
- 20. The sinner pleads, again "I can't live
a Christian life if I were to become a Christian. It is unreasonable for me to expect
to succeed where I see so many fail." I recollect the case of a man who said,
"It is of no use for me to repent and be a Christian, for it is altogether irrational
for me to expect to do better than others have done before me." So sinners who
make this excuse come forward very modestly and tell God, "I am very humble;
Thou seest, Lord, that I have a very low opinion of myself; I am so zealous of Thine
honour, and so afraid that I shall bring disgrace upon Thy cause; it does not seem
at all best for me to think of becoming a Christian, I have such a horror of dishonouring
- Yes; and what then? "Therefore, I will sin
on and trample the blessed Gospel under my feet. I will persecute Thee, O my God,
and make war on Thy cause, for it is better by far not to profess religion than to
profess and then disgrace my profession." What logic! Fair specimen of the absurdity
of the sinner's excuses.
This excuse assumes that there is not grace enough provided and offered to sustain
the soul in a Christian life. The doctrine is, that it is irrational to expect that
we can, by any grace received in this life, perfectly obey the law of God. There
is not grace and help enough afforded by God! And this is taught as BIBLE THEOLOGY!
Away with such teaching to the nether pit whence it came!
What! is God so weak that He can't hold up the soul that casts itself on Him? Or
is He so parsimonious in bestowing His gracious aid that it must be expected always
to fall short of meeting the wants of His dependent and depending child? So you seem
to suppose. So hard to persuade the Lord to give you a particle of grace. Can't get
grace enough to live a Christian life with honour.What is this but charging God of
withholding sufficient grace.
But what say the word and the oath of Jehovah? We read that "God, willing more
abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed
it by an oath; that by two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to
lie, we might have strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the
hope set before us." You say, however, "If I should flee and lay hold of
this hope I should fail for want of grace. I could have no 'consolation' in reposing
upon the word of Him who cannot lie. The oath of the immutable God can never suffice
So you belie the word of God, and make up a miserably slim and guilty apology for
- 21. Another excuse claims that this is a very
dark, mysterious subject. This matter of faith and regeneration -- I can't understand
- Sinner, did you ever meet the Lord with this objection,
and say, "Lord, Thou hast required me to do things which I can't understand?"
You know that you can understand well enough that you are a sinner -- that Christ
died for you -- that you must believe on Him and break off your sins by repentance.
All this is so plain that "the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein."
Your plea, therefore, is as false as it is foul. It is nothing better than a base
libel on God!
- 22. But you say, "I can't believe."
You mean (do you?) that you can't believe a God of infinite veracity as you can believe
a fellow man? Would you imply that God asks you to believe things that are really
incredible -- things so revolting to reason that you cannot admit them on any testimony
that even God Himself can adduce?
- And do you expect to make out this case against
God? Do you even believe the first point in it yourself?
But you urge again that you can't realize these things. You know these things to
be true, but you can't realize -- you can't realize that the Bible is true -- that
God does offer to forgive -- that salvation is actually provided and placed within
your reach. What help can there be for a case like yours? What can make these truths
more certain? But, on your own showing, you do not want more evidence. Why not, then,
act upon the known truth? What more can you ask?
Do you ever carry your case before God and say, "O Lord, Thou sayest that Christ
died for me, but I can't realize that it is so; and, therefore, Lord, I can't possibly
embrace Him as my Saviour?" Would this be a rational excuse?
But you also plead that you can't repent. You can't be sorry you have abused God.
You can't make up your mind now to break off from all sin. If this be really so,
then you cannot make up your mind to obey God, and you may as well make up your mind
to go to hell! There is no alternative!
But at any rate, you can't become a Christian now. You mean to be converted some
time, but you can't make up your mind to it now. Well, God requires it now, and of
course you must yield or abide the consequences.
But do you say, You can't now? Then God is very much to blame for asking it. If,
however, the truth be that you can, then the lie is on your side, and it is a most
infamous and abusive lie against your Maker.
III. All excuses for sin add insult to injury.
- 1. A plea that reflects injuriously upon the court
or the lawgiver is an aggravation of the original crime. It is always so regarded
in all tribunals. It must be pre-eminently so between the sinner and his infinite
Lawgiver and Judge.
- 2. The same is true of any plea made in self-justification.
If it be false, it is considered an aggravation of the crime charged. This is a case
which sometimes happens, and whenever it does, it is deemed to add fresh insult and
wrong. For a criminal to come and spread out his lie upon the records of the court
-- to declare what he knows to be false; nothing can prejudice his case so fearfully.
- On the other hand, when a man before the court
appears to be honest, and confesses his guilt, the judge, if he has any discretion
in the case, puts down his sentence to the lowest point possible. But if the criminal
resorts to dodging -- if he equivocates and lies, then you will see the strong arm
of the law come down upon him. The judge comes forth in all the thunders of judicial
majesty and terror, and feels that he may not spare his victim. Why? The man has
lied before the very court of justice. The man sets himself against all law, and
he must be put down, or law itself is down.
- 3. It is truly abominable for the sinner to abuse
God, and then excuse himself for it. Ah, this is only the old way of the guilty.
Adam and Eve in the garden fled and hid themselves when they heard the voice of the
Lord approaching. And what had they done? The Lord calls them out and begins to search
them: "Adam, what hast thou done? Has thou eaten of the forbidden tree in the
centre of the garden?" Adam quailed, but fled to an excuse: "The woman
whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat." God,
he says, gave him his tempter. God, according to his excuse, had been chiefly to
blame in the transaction.
- Next He turns to the woman: "What is that
thou hast done?" She, too, has an excuse: "The serpent beguiled me and
I did eat." Ah, this perpetual shuffling the blame back upon God! It has been
kept up through the long line of Adam's imitators down to this day. For six thousand
years God has been hearing it, and still the world is spared, and the vengeance of
God has not yet burst forth to smite all His guilty calumniators to hell! O! what
patience in God! And who have ever abused His patience and insulted Him by their
excuses more than sinners in this house?
- 1. No sinner under the light of the Gospel lives
a single hour in sin without some excuse, either tacit or avowed, by which he justifies
himself. It seems to be a law of man's intelligent nature that when accused of wrong,
either by his conscience or by any other agent, he must either confess or justify.
The latter is the course taken by all impenitent sinners. Hence, the reason why they
have so much occasion for excuses, and why they find it convenient to have so great
a variety. It is remarkable with what facility they fly from one to another, as if
these refuges of lies might make up in number what they lack in strength. Conscious
that not one of all the multitude is valid in point of truth and right, they yet,
when pressed on one, fly to another, and when driven from all in succession they
are ready to come back and fight the same ground over again. It is so hard to abandon
all excuses and admit the humbling truth that they themselves are all wrong and God
- Hence, it becomes the great business of a Gospel
minister to search out and expose the sinner's excuses; to go all round and round,
and, if possible, demolish the sinner's refuges of lies, and lay his heart open to
the shafts of truth.
- 2. Excuses render repentance impossible. For excuses
are justifications; and who does not know that justification is the very opposite
of confession and repentance? To seek after and embrace excuses, therefore, is to
place one's self at the farthest possible remove from repentance.
- Of course the self-accusing sinner makes it impossible
for God to forgive him. He places the Deity in such a position toward himself, and,
I might say, places himself in such an attitude toward the government of God, that
his forgiveness would be ruin to the very throne of God. What would heaven say, and
hell too, and earth besides, if God were to forgive a sinner while he, by his excuses,
is justifying himself and condemning his Maker?
- 3. Sinners should lay all their excuses at once
before God. Surely this is most reasonable. Why not? If a man owed me, and supposed
he had a reasonable excuse for not paying the debt, he should come to me and let
me understand the whole case. Perhaps he will satisfy me that his views are right.
- Now, sinner, have you ever done so in regard to
God? Have you ever brought up one excuse before the Lord, saying, "Thou requirest
me to be holy, but I can't be; Lord, I have a good excuse for not obeying Thee?"
No, sinner; you are not in the habit of doing this -- probably you have not done
it the first time yet in all your life. In fact, you have no particular encouragement
to carry your excuses before God, for you have not one yet that you yourself believe
to be good for anything except to answer the purpose of a refuge of lies. Your excuses
won't stand the ordeal of your own reason and conscience. How then can you hope they
will stand before the searching eye of Jehovah? The fact that you never come with
your excuses to God shows that you have no confidence in them.
- 4. What infinite madness to rest on excuses which
you dare not bring before God now! How can you stand before God in the judgment,
if your excuses are so mean that you cannot seriously think of bringing one of them
before God in this world? O, sinner, that coming day will be far more searching and
awful than anything you have seen yet. See that dense mass of sinners drawn up before
the great white throne -- far as the eye can sweep they come surging up -- a countless
throng; and now they stand, and the awful trump of God summons them forward to bring
forth their excuses for sin. Ho, sinners -- any one of you, all -- what have you
to say why sentence should not be passed on you? Where are all those excuses you
were once so free and bold to make? Where are they all? Why don't you make them now?
Hark! God waits; He listens; there is silence in heaven -- all through the congregated
throng -- for half an hour -- an awful silence that may be felt; but not a word --
not a moving lip among the gathered myriads of sinners there; and now the great and
dreadful Judge arises and lets loose His thunders. O, see the waves of dire damnation
roll over the ocean -- masses of self-condemned sinners! Did you ever see the judge
rise from his bench in court to pass sentence of death on a criminal? There, see,
the poor man reels -- he falls prostrate -- there is no longer any strength in him,
for death is on him and his last hope has perished!
- O, sinner, when that sentence from the dread throne
shall fall on thee! Your excuses are as millstones around your neck as you plunge
along down the sides of the pit to the nethermost hell!
- 5. Sinners don't need their excuses. God does
not ask for even one. He does not require you to justify yourself -- not at all.
If you needed them for your salvation I could sympathize with you, and certainly
would help you all I could. But you don't need them. Your salvation does not turn
on your successful self-vindication. You need not rack your brain for excuses. Better
say, I don't want them -- don't deserve them -- have not one that is worth a straw.
- Better say, "I am wicked. God knows that's
the truth, and it were vain for me to attempt to conceal it. I AM WICKED, and if
I ever live, it must be on simple mercy!"
I can recollect very well the year I lived on excuses, and how long it was before
I gave them up. I had never heard a minister preach on the subject. I found, however,
by my experience, that my excuses and lies were the obstacles in the way of my conversion.
As soon as I let these go utterly, I found the gate of mercy wide open. And so, sinner,
- 6. Sinners ought to be ashamed of their excuses,
and repent of them. Perhaps you have not always seen this as plainly as you may now.
With the light now before you it becomes you to beware. See to it that you never
make another excuse, unless you intend to abuse God in the most horrible manner.
Nothing can be a more grievous abomination in the sight of God than excuses made
by a sinner who knows they are utterly false and blasphemous. O, you ought to repent
of the insult you have already offered to God -- and now, too, lest you find yourself
thrust away from the gate of mercy.
- 7. You admit your obligation, and of course are
estopped from making excuses. For if you have any good excuse, you are not under
obligation. If any one of you has a good excuse for disobeying God, you are no longer
under obligation to obey. But since you are compelled to admit obligation, you are
also compelled to relinquish excuses.
- 8. Inasmuch as you do and must admit your obligation,
then if you still plead excuses you insult God to His face. You insult Him by charging
Him with infinite tyranny.
- Now, what use do you calculate to make of this
sermon? Are you ready to say, "I will henceforth desist from all my excuses,
now and for ever; and God shall have my whole heart? What do you say? Will you set
about to hunt up some new excuse? Do you at least say, "Let me go home first
-- don't press me to yield to God here on the spot -- let me go home and then I will?"
Do you say this? And are you aware how tender is this moment -- how critical this
passing hour? Remember it is not I who press this claim upon you -- but it is God.
God Himself commands you to repent today -- this hour. You know your duty -- you
know what religion is -- what it is to give God your heart. And now I come to the
final question: Will you do it? Will you abandon all your excuses, and fall, a self-condemned
sinner, before a God of love, and yield to Him yourself -- your heart, and your whole
being, henceforth and for ever? WILL YOU COME?
SERMON VI. Back to Top
THE SINNER'S EXCUSES ANSWERED.
"Elihu also proceeded and said, Suffer me a little, and I will shew thee that
I have yet to speak on God's behalf. I will fetch my knowledge from afar, and will
ascribe righteousness to my Maker." -- Job xxxvi. 1-3.
ELIHU was present and heard the controversy between
Job and his friends. The latter maintained that God's dealings with Job proved him
wicked. This Job denied, and maintained that we could not judge men to be good or
bad, from God's providential dealings with them, because facts show that the present
is not a state of rewards and punishments. They, however, regarded this as taking
part with the wicked, and hence did not shrink from accusing Job of doing this.
Elihu had previously said -- My desire is that Job may be tried in regard to what
he has said of wicked men. But ere the discussion closed, he saw that Job had confounded
his three friends, maintaining unanswerably that it was not because of any hypocrisy
or special guilt that he was so signally scourged. Yet plainly even Job had not the
key to explain the reason of God's dealings with him. To him it was still a mystery.
He did not see that God might have been seeking to test and discipline his piety,
or even to make an example of his integrity and submissiveness to confound the devil
Elihu purposed to speak in God's behalf and ascribed righteousness to his Maker.
It is my present object to do the same in regard to sinners who refuse to repent,
and who complain of God's ways. But before I proceed, let me advert to a fact. Some
years since, in my labours as an evangelist, I became acquainted with a man prominent
in the place of his residence for his general intelligence, and whose two successive
wives were daughters of Old School Presbyterian clergymen. Through them he had received
many books to read on religious subjects, which they and their friends supposed would
do him good, but which failed to do him any good at all. He denied the inspiration
of the Bible, and on grounds which those books did not in his view obviate at all.
Indeed, they only served to aggravate his objections.
When I came into the place, his wife was very anxious that I should see and converse
with him. I called; she sent for him to come in and see the new minister; to which
he replied that he was sure he could do him no good, since he had conversed with
so many and found no light on the points that so much stumbled him; but upon her
urgent entreaty, he consented for her sake to come in. I said to him in the outset,
"Don't understand me as having called here to have a quarrel with you, and provoke
a dispute. I only wish at your wife's request to converse with you, if you are perfectly
willing, upon the great subject of divine revelation." He signified his pleasure
to have such a conversation, and accordingly I asked him to state briefly his position.
He replied "I admit the truths of natural religion, and believe most fully in
the immortality of the soul, but not in the inspiration of the Scriptures. I am a
Deist." But, said I, on what ground do you deny the inspiration of the Bible?
Said he, I know it cannot be true. How do you know that? It contradicts the affirmations
of my reason. You admit and I hold that God created my nature, both physical and
moral. Here is a book, said to be from God, but it contradicts my nature. I therefore
know it cannot be from God.
This of course opened the door for me to draw from him the particular points of his
objection to the Bible as teaching what his nature contradicted. These points and
my reply to them will constitute the body of my present discourse.
- 1. The Bible cannot be true because it represents
God as unjust. I find myself possessed of convictions as to what is just and unjust.
These convictions the Bible outrages. It represents God as creating men and then
condemning them for another's sin.
- Indeed, said I, and where? Say, where does the
Bible affirm this?
Why, does it not? said he. No. Are you a Presbyterian? said he. Yes. He then began
to quote the catechism. Stop, stop, said I, that is not the Bible. That is only a
human catechism. True, said he, but does not the Bible connect the universal sin
of the race with the sin of Adam? Yes, said I, it does in a particular way, but it
is quite essential to our purpose to understand in what way. The Bible makes this
connection incidental and not direct; and it always represents the sinner condemned
as really sinning himself, and as condemned for his own sin.
But, continued he, children do suffer for their father's sins. Yes said I, in a certain
sense it is so, and must be so. Do you not see yourself, everywhere, that children
must suffer for the sins of their parents? and be blessed also by the piety of their
parents? You see this and you find no fault with it. You see that children must be
implicated in the good or ill conduct of their parents; their relation as children
makes this absolutely unavoidable. Is it not wise and good that the happiness or
misery of children should depend on their parents, and thus become one of the strongest
possible motives to them to train them up in virtue? Yet it is true that the son
is never rewarded or punished punitively for his parents' sins. The evil that befalls
him through his connection with his parents is always disciplinary -- never punitive.
Again, he said, the Bible certainly represents God as creating men sinners, and as
condemning them for their sinful nature. No, replied I; for the Bible defines sin
as voluntary transgression of law, and it is absurd to suppose that a nature can
be a voluntary transgresson. Besides, it is in the nature of the case impossible
that God should make a sinful nature. It is in fact doubly impossible, for the thing
is a natural impossibility, and if it were not, it would yet be morally impossible
that He should do it. He could not do it for the same reason that He can not sin.
In harmony with this is the fact that the Bible never represents God as condemning
men for their nature, either here or at the judgment. Nowhere in the Bible is there
the least intimation that God holds men responsible for their created nature, but
only for the vile and pertinacious abuse of their nature. Other views of this matter,
differing from this, are not the Bible, but are only false glosses put upon it usually
by those whose philosophy has led them into absurd interpretations. Everywhere in
the Bible men are condemned only for their voluntary sins, and are required to repent
of these sins, and of these only. Indeed, there can possibly be no other sins than
Again, it is said, the Bible represents God as being cruel, inasmuch as He commanded
the Jews to wage a war of extermination against the ancient Canaanites.
But why should this be called cruel? The Bible expressly informs us that God commanded
this because of their awful wickedness. They were too awfully wicked to live. God
could not suffer them to defile the earth and corrupt society. Hence He arose in
His zeal for human welfare, and commanded to wash the land clean of such unutterable
abominations. The good of the race demanded it. Was this cruel? Nay, verily, this
was simply benevolent. It was one of the highest acts of benevolence to smite down
such a race and sweep them from the face of the earth. And to employ the Jews as
His executioners, giving them to understand distinctly why He commanded them to do
it, was putting them in a way to derive the highest moral benefit from the transaction.
In no other way could they have been so solemnly impressed with the holy justice
of Jehovah. And now will any man find fault with God for this? None can do so, reasonably.
But the Bible allows slavery.
What? The Bible allow slavery? In what sense allow it? and under what circumstances?
and what kind of slavery? These are all very important inquiries if we wish to know
the certainty and the meaning of the things we say.
The Bible did indeed allow the Jews, in the case of captives taken in war, to commute
death for servitude. When the customs of existing nations put captives taken in war
to death, God authorized the Jews in certain cases to spare their captives and employ
them as servants. By this means they were taken out from among idolatrous nations
and brought into contact with the worship and ordinances of the true God.
Moreover, God enacted statutes for the protection of the Hebrew servant, which made
his case infinitely better than being cut off in his sins. And who shall call this
cruel? Jewish servitude was not American slavery, nor scarcely an approximation toward
it. It would require too much time to go into the detail of this subject here. All
that I have stated might be abundantly substantiated.
Again, it is objected God is unmerciful, vindictive, and implacable. The gentleman
to whom I have alluded said -- I don't believe the Bible is from God when it represents
Him as so vindictive and implacable that He would not forgive sin until He had first
taken measures to kill His own Son.
Now it was by no means unnatural that, under such instructions he had received, he
should think so. I had felt so myself. This very objection had stumbled me. But I
afterwards saw the answer so plainly that it left nothing more to be desired. The
answer indeed is exceedingly plain. It was not an implacable disposition in God which
led Him to require the death of Christ as the ground of forgiveness. It was simply
his benevolent regard for the safety and blessedness of His kingdom. He knew very
well that it was unsafe to forgive sin without such a satisfaction. Indeed, this
was the strongest possible exhibition of a forgiving disposition, to consent to the
sacrifice of His Son for this purpose. He loved His Son, and certainly would not
inflict one needless pang upon Him. He also loved a sinning race, and saw the depth
of that ruin toward which they were rushing. Therefore He longed to forgive them,
and to prepare a way in which He could do so with safety. He only desired to avoid
all misapprehension. To forgive without such atonement as would adequately express
His abhorrence of sin, would leave the intelligent universe to think that He did
not care how much any beings should sin. This would not do.
Let it be considered also that the giving up of Jesus Christ was only a voluntary
offering on God's part to sustain law, so that He could forgive without peril to
His government. Jesus was not in any sense punished; He only volunteered to suffer
for sinners that they might be freed from the governmental necessity of suffering.
And was not mercy manifested in this? Certainly. How could it be manifested more
But, says the objector, God is unjust, inasmuch as He requires impossibilities on
pain of endless death.
Does He, indeed? Then where? In the law, is it, or in the Gospel? In these taken
together we have the aggregate of all God's requirements. In what part, then, of
either law or Gospel do you find the precept contained which requires impossibilities?
Is it in the law? But the law says only "Thou shall love the Lord thy God with
all thy heart;" not with another man's heart, but simply with thine own; only
with all thine own heart, not with more than all. Read on still further: "and
with all thy strength." Not with the strength of an angel -- not with the strength
of any other being than thyself, and only with such an amount of strength as you
actually have for the time being. The demands of the law, you see, exactly meet your
ability; nothing more and nothing else.
Indeed, said he, this is a new view of the subject. Well, but is not this just as
it should be? Does not the law carry with it, its own vindication in its very terms?
How can any one say that the law requires of us impossible service -- things we have
no power to do? The fact is, it requires us to do just what we can and nothing more.
Where, then, is this objection to the Bible? Where is the impossibility of which
But, resumed he, is it not true that "no mere man since the fall has been able
wholly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word,
Ah, my friend, that's catechism, not Bible; we must be careful not to impute to the
Bible all that human catechisms have said. The Bible only requires you to consecrate
to God what strength and powers you actually have, and is by no means responsible
for the affirmation that God requires of man more than he can do. No, verily, the
Bible nowhere imputes to God a requisition so unreasonable and cruel. No wonder the
human mind should rebel against such a view of God's law. If any human law were to
require impossibilities, there could be no end to the denunciations that must fall
upon it. No human mind could possibly approve of such a law. Nor can it be supposed
that God can reasonably act on principles which would disgrace and ruin any human
But, resumed he, here is another objection. The Bible represents men as unable to
believe the Gospel unless they are drawn by God, for it reads, "No man can come
to me except the Father who hath sent me draw him." Yet sinners are required
to believe on pain of damnation. How is this?
To this the reply is, first, the connection shows that Christ referred to drawing
by means of teaching or instruction; for to confirm what He had said, He appeals
to the ancient scriptures, "It is written, They shall all be taught of God."
Without this teaching, then, none can come. They must know Christ before they can
come to Him in faith. They cannot believe till they know what to believe. In this
sense of coming, untaught heathen are not required to come. God never requires any
to come, who have not been taught. Once taught, they are bound to come, may be and
are required to come, and are without excuse if they refuse.
But, replied he, the Bible does really teach that men cannot serve the Lord, and
still it holds them responsible for doing it. Joshua said to all the people, "Ye
cannot serve the Lord, for He is an holy God."
Let us see. Joshua had called all the people together and had laid before them their
obligation to serve the Lord their God. When they all said so readily and with so
little serious consideration that they would, Joshua replied, "Ye cannot serve
the Lord for He is a holy God; He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions
nor your sins." What did he mean? Plainly this -- Ye cannot serve God, because
you have not heartily abandoned your sins. You cannot get along with a God so holy
and so jealous, unless you give up sinning. You cannot serve God with a selfish heart.
You cannot please Him till you really renounce your sins altogether. You must begin
by making to yourselves a new heart. Joshua doubtless saw that they had not given
up their sins and had not really begun to serve God at all, and did not even understand
the first principles of true religion. This is the reason why he seemed to repulse
them so suddenly. It is as if he would say -- Stop; you must go back and begin with
utterly putting away all your sins. You cannot serve a holy and jealous God in any
other way, for He will not go along with you as His people if you persist in sinning
It is a gross perversion of the Bible to make it mean that men have no power to do
what God requires. It is true indeed, that in this connection it sometimes uses the
words can and can not, but these and similar words should be construed according
to the nature of the subject. All reasonable men construe thus intuitively in all
common use of language. The Bible always employs the language of common life and
in the way of common usage. Hence it should be thus interpreted.
When it is said that Joseph's brethren hated him and could not speak peaceably to
him, the meaning is not that their organs of speech could not articulate kind words;
but it points us to a difficulty in the heart. They hated him so badly they could
not speak pleasantly. Nor does the sacred historian assume that they could not at
once subdue this hatred and treat Joseph as brother should treat brother. The sacred
writers are the last men in the world to apologize for sin on this wise.
There is the case of the angels sent to hasten Lot out of guilty Sodom. One said,
"Haste thee escape thither, for I can not do anything until thou be come thither."
Does this mean that the Almighty God had no power to overwhelm Sodom so long as Lot
was in it? Certainly not. It meant only that it was His purpose not to destroy the
city till Lot was out. Indeed, all men use language thus in common life. You go into
one of our village stores and say to the merchant, Can you lift a ton of your goods
at once? No. Can you sell me that piece of cloth for a shilling a yard? No. Does
this it can mean the same as the other? By no means. But how is it that you detect
the difference? How is it that you come to know so readily which is the physical
cannot and which the moral? The nature of the subject tells you.
But, you say, the same word ought always to mean the same thing. Well, if it ought
to, it does not, in any language ever yet spoken by man. And yet there is no difficulty
in understanding even the most imperfect of human languages if men are honest in
speaking and honest in hearing, and will use their common sense. They intuitively
construe language according to the nature of the subject spoken of.
The Bible always assumes that sinners can not do right and please God with a wicked
heart. It always takes the ground that God abhors hypocrisy -- that He can not be
satisfied with mere forms and professions of service when the heart is not in it,
and hence that all acceptable service must begin with making a new and sincere heart.
But here is another difficulty. Can I make to myself a new heart?
Yes, and you could not doubt but that you could, if you only understood what the
language means, and what the thing is.
See Adam and Eve in the garden. What was their heart? Did God create it? No; it is
not possible that He should, for a heart in this sense is not the subject of physical
creation. When God made Adam, giving him all the capacities for acting morally, he
had no heart good or bad until he came to act morally. When did he first have a moral
heart? When he first waked to moral consciousness and gave his heart to God. When
first he saw God manifested, and put confidence in Him as his Father, and yielded
up his heart to Him in love and obedience. Observe, he first had this holy heart
because he yielded up his will to God in entire consecration. This was his first
But at length the hour of temptation came, alluring him to withdraw his heart from
God and turn to pleasing himself. To Eve the tempter said "Hath God indeed said
-- Ye shall not surely die?" Ah, is that so? Then he raised the question either
as to the fact that God had really threatened death for sin, or as to the justice
of doing so. In either case it raised a question about obedience and opened the heart
to temptation. Then that fruit came before her mind. It was fair and seemed good
for food. Her appetite enkindles and clamours for indulgence. Then, it was said to
be fitted to "make one wise," and by eating it she might "be as the
gods, knowing good and evil." This appealed to her curiosity. Yielding to this
temptation and making up her mind to please herself, she made herself a new heart
of sin; she changed her heart from holiness to sin, and fell from her first moral
position. When Adam yielded to temptation, he made the same change in his heart;
he gave himself up to selfishness and sin. This accounts for all future acts of selfishness
in after life.
Adam and Eve are again brought before God. God says to Adam -- Give me thy heart.
Change your heart. What! says Adam, I cannot change my own heart! But God replies,
How long is it since you have done it? It is but yesterday that you changed your
own heart from holiness to sin; why can't you change it back?
So in all cases. Changing the ruling preference, the governing purpose of the mind,
is the thing, and who can say, I cannot do that. Cannot you do that? Cannot you give
yourself to God?
The reason you cannot please God in your executive acts, is that your governing purpose
is not right. While your leading motive is wrong, all you do is selfish, because
it is all done for the single object of pleasing yourself. You do nothing for the
sake of pleasing God, and with the governing design and purpose of doing all His
holy will; hence all you do, even your religious duties, only displease God. If the
Bible had anywhere represented God as being pleased with your hypocritical services
it would be proven false, for this is perfectly impossible.
But you say, the Bible requires me to begin with the inner man -- the heart -- and
you say you cannot get at this; that you cannot reach your own heart or will to change
Indeed, you are entirely mistaken. This is the very thing that is most entirely within
your power. Of all things conceivable, this is the very thing that you can do most
certainly -- that is most absolutely within your power. If God had made your salvation
turn upon your walking across the room, you might not be able to do it; or if upon
lifting your eyelids or rising from your seat, or any the least movement of your
muscles, you might be utterly unable to do it. You could will the motion required,
and you could try; but the muscles might have no power to act. You often think that
if God had only conditioned your salvation upon some motions of your muscles, it
would have been so easy; if He had only asked you to control the outside; but, oh,
you say, how can I control the inside? The inside is the very thing you can move
and control. If it had been the outside, you might strive and groan till you die,
and not be able to move a muscle, even on pain of an eternal hell. But now inasmuch
as God only says, "Change your will," all is brought within your control.
This is just the thing you always can do; you can always move your will. You can
always give your heart, at your own option. Where, then, is your difficulty and objection?
God requires you to act with your freedom; to exercise the powers of free voluntary
action that He has given you. He asks you to put your hand on the fountainhead of
all your own power, to act just where your central power lies -- where YOU ALWAYS
HAVE POWER so long as you have a rational mind and a moral nature. Your liberty does
not consist in a power to move your muscles at pleasure, for the connection between
your muscles and your will may be broken, and at all events is always necessary when
your body is in its normal state; therefore God does not require you to perform any
particular movement of the muscles, but only to change your will. This, compared
with all other things, is that which you can always do, and can do more surely than
Again, considering volitions as distinct from ultimate purposes, and as standing
next before executive acts, it is not volitions that God requires, but He lays His
requisition directly upon the ultimate purposes. The ultimate purposes being given,
these subordinate volitions follow naturally and necessarily. Your liberty, therefore,
does not, strictly speaking, lie in these subordinate volitions -- such as the volition
to sit, to walk, to speak. But the ultimate purpose controlling all volition, and
relating to the main object you shall pursue, as, for example, whether you shall
in all things strive to please God, or, on the other hand, strive to please yourself;
this being the precise point wherein your liberty of free action lies, is the very
point upon which God lays His moral requisitions. The whole question is, will you
please God, or please yourself? Will you give your heart to Him, or give it to your
own selfish enjoyment?
So long as you give your heart to selfish pleasure and withhold it from God, it will
be perfectly natural for you to sin. This is precisely the reason why it is so natural
for sinners to sin. It is because the will, the heart, is set upon it, and all they
have to do is to carry out this ruling propensity and purpose. But, just change this
governing purpose, and you will find obedience equally natural and equally easy in
all its executive acts. It will then become natural to please God in everything.
Now pleasing yourself is natural enough. Why? Because you are consecrated to pleasing
yourself. But change this purpose; make a new and totally opposite consecration;
reverse the committed heart, and let it be for God and not for self; then all duty
will be easy for the same reason that all sin is so easy now.
So far is it from being true that you are unable to make your heart new, the fact
is you would long ago have done it if you had not resisted God in His efforts to
move you to repentance. Do you not know that you have often resisted God's Spirit?
You know it well. So clear were your convictions that you ought to live for God,
you had to resist every appeal of your own conscience, and march right in the face
of known duty, and press your way along directly against God. If you had only listened
to the voice of your reason, and to the demands of your conscience, you would have
had a new heart long ago. But you resisted God when He tried to persuade you to have
a new heart. O, sinner, how strong you have been to resist God! How strong to resist
every consideration addressed to your intelligence and to your reason! How strangely
have you listened to the considerations for sinning! O, the miserable petty things
-- tell me, what were they? Suppose Christ should question you, and ask -- What is
there in earth that you should love it so well? What in sin that you should prize
it above my favour and my love? What are those little indulgences -- those very small
things that always perish with the using? Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Most
utterly contemptible! You have been holding on to sin with no reasonable motive for
so doing. But O, consider what motives you have fought against and resisted -- motives
of almost infinite force! Think of the motives resulting from God's law -- so excellent
in itself, but so dreadful in its penalties against transgressors; and then think
also of God's infinite love in the Gospel; how He opened the life-tides of His great
heart, and let blessings flow with fullness like a God! Yet consider how, despite
of this love, you have abused your God exceedingly. You have gone on as if the motives
to sin were all-persuasive, and as if sin's promises of good were more reliable than
God's. When God spread out before you the glories of heaven, made all attractive
and delightful in the beauties of holiness, you coolly replied -- Earth is far better!
Give me earth while I can have it, and heaven only when I can have earth no longer!
O, sinner, you would have been converted a long time ago if you had not opposed God
and trodden under foot His invitations and His appeals.
O, what a thing is this moral agency! How awful its power, and how momentous, therefore,
must be its responsibilities. When God is pouring forth influences in waves of light
and power, with a kind of moral omnipotence, you resist and withstand all! As if
you could do anything you pleased despite of God! As if His influence were almost
utterly powerless to move your heart from its fixed purpose to sin!
Does it require great strength to lay down your weapons? Indeed, this is quite a
new thing; for one would suppose it must rather require great strength to resist
and to fight. And so you put forth your great strength in fighting against God, and
would fain believe that you have not got strength enough to lay your weapons down!
O, the absurdity of sin and of the sinner's apology for sinning!
But you say -- I must have the Holy Ghost. I answer, Yes; but only to overcome your
voluntary opposition. That is all.
After I had gone over this ground with my friend, as I have already explained, he
became very much agitated. The sweat started from every pore; his feelings overcame
him; he dropped his head down upon his knees, buried in intensest thought and full
of emotion. I rose and went to the meeting. After it had progressed awhile he came
in; but O, how changed! Said he, "Dear wife, I don't know what has become of
my infidelity. I ought to be sent to hell! What charges I have been making against
God! And yet with what amazing mercy did my God bear with me and let me live!"
In fact, he found he had been all wrong and he broke all down and became as a little
child before God.
And you, too, sinner, know you ought to live for God, yet you have not; you know
that Jesus made Himself an offering to the injured dignity of that law which you
violated, yet you have rejected Him. He gave Himself a voluntary offering, not to
suffer the penalty of the law, but as your legal substitute; and shall He have done
all this in vain? Do you say, "O, I'm so prejudiced against God and the Bible!"
What, so prejudiced that you will not repent? How horrible! O let it suffice that
you have played the fool so long and erred so exceedingly. It has been all wrong!
At once return and devote yourself to God. Why should you live to yourself at all?
You can get no good so!
Come to God -- He is so easily pleased! It is so much easier to please Him than to
please and satisfy yourself. The veriest little child can please Him. Children often
have the most delightful piety, because it is so simple-hearted. They know what to
do to please God, and, meaning honestly to please Him, they can not fail. No matter
how simple-hearted they are, if they mean to please God, they surely will.
And can not you at least do so much as honestly to choose and aim to please God?
SERMON VII. Back to Top
ON REFUGES OF LIES.
"Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, and
the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding
place." -- Isaiah xxviii. 17.
ALL men know themselves to be sinners against God.
They know also, that, as sinners, they are in peril and are not safe. Hence their
anxiety to find some refuge for...
...They know they might find this in the way of forsaking sin and turning to the
Lord; but they do not choose to forsake their sins. Hence there seems to be no convenient
resource but to hide themselves under some refuge.
Our text speaks of "the refuge of lies." Yet it is obvious that men who
resort to lies for a refuge regard those lies not as lies, but as truth. This fact
leads us to raise the primary fundamental question -- Have we any rule or standard
which will show what is truth, and what is falsehood? Men have countless opinions
about religion; these can not all be true; how can we determine which are true and
which not true?
We have an infallible test.
Salvation, to be real and available, must be salvation from sin. Everything else
fails. Any system of religion which does not break the power of sin, is a lie. If
it does not expel selfishness and lust, and if it does not beget love to God and
man, joy, peace, and all the fruits of the Spirit, it is false and worthless. Any
system that fails in this vital respect is a lie -- can be of no use -- is no better
than a curse.
That which does not, beget in us the spirit of heaven and make us like God, no matter
whence it comes, or by what sophistry defended, is a lie, and if fled to as a refuge,
it is a "refuge of lies."
Again, if it does not beget prayer, does not unify us with God, and bring us into
fellowship and sympathy with Him, it is a lie.
If it does not produce a heavenly mind, and expel a worldly mind, and wean us from
the love of the world, it is a lie. If it does not beget in us the love required
in the Scriptures, the love of God and of His worship and of His people -- indeed,
of all mankind: if it does not produce all those states of mind which fit the soul
for heaven, it fails utterly of its purpose.
Here I must stop a moment to notice an objection. It is said, "The Gospel does
not, in fact, do for men all you claim. It does not make professed Christians heavenly-minded,
dead to the world, full of love, joy, and peace."
I reply: Here is medicine which, applied in a given disease, will certainly cure.
This healing power is just what it has and what we claim for it. But it must be fairly
A man may buy the medicine, and because it is bitter, may lay it up in his cupboard
and never take it; he may provide himself with a counterfeit to take in its stead;
or he may follow it with something that will instantly counteract its influence in
the system. In any such case, the efficacy of the medicine is not disproved; you
only prove that you have not used it fairly and honestly.
So with the Gospel. You must take it and use it according to directions; else its
failure is not its fault, but yours.
It is of no avail, then, to say that the Gospel does not save men from sin. It may
indeed be counterfeited; it may be itself rejected; but he who receives it to his
heart will surely find his heart blessed thereby. The Gospel does transform men from
sin to holiness -- does make men peaceful, holy, heavenly, in life and in death.
Millions of such cases lie out on the face of the world's history. Their lives evince
the reality and preciousness of the salvation which the Gospel promises.
I will now proceed to name some things that lack this decisive characteristic. They
do not save the soul from sin.
- 1. An unsanctifying hope of heaven. Speaking of
what God's children shall be, John says "We know that when He shall appear we
shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope
in him (Christ) purifieth himself even as He is pure." A good hope, then, does
purify the heart. But there certainly are hopes indulged that fail to purify the
heart of those who hold them. Those hopes are lies. They cannot possibly be sound
and true. On their very face, it stands revealed that they are worthless -- a mere
refuge of lies. The stronger and more unwavering they are, so much the more are they
delusive. What hope in Christ is that which does not bring the heart to Christ?
- 2. An old experience, that is all old, is a lie.
You have, perhaps, heard of the man who had his old experience all written down and
laid away with his deeds of land to keep till his time of need. This being all the
evidence he had, he used to refer to it from time to time for his comfort. At length,
when the time came for him to die, he felt the need of this record of his religion,
and sent his little daughter to bring it. She returned with only the sad story that
the mice had found their way to his drawer and had eaten up the paper -- all the
dying man's evidence of piety! Alas! he must die in despair! He had no other hope
but this! On the face of it, such a refuge is only lies.
- 3. There are two forms of self-righteousness --
the legal and the Gospel -- both of which are refuges of lies.
- The legal depends on duty -- doing -- evermore
trying to work out salvation by deeds of law. The Gospel form sets itself to get
grace by works. Men try to get a new heart not by trying to turn from all sin, but
by praying for it. I meet such a man. He says, "I tried to become religious."
Indeed, and, what did you do? "I prayed for a new heart." You did! But
you did not do what God says you must -- Make yourself a new heart and a new spirit;"
you did not repent -- you did not bow your heart to God. Therefore, all your doings
come short of what God requires. They fail of saving the soul from sin.
There is a great deal of this Gospel self-righteousness -- this throwing off the
responsibility upon God.
- 4. Universalism is an old refuge of lies. And
here let me give you a case. Being out from home in my carriage, I overtook a young
man and invited him to ride. Almost immediately he told me he was a Universalist
and came out strongly in defence of his system. I said to him, "I am not well
and may not live long, and I do not dare to be deceived in this matter." He
said for his part he was sure enough of its truth. He had heard smart men say so,
and prove it from Scripture. I said to him -- I have one objection. There is a certain
train of facts which I cannot account for, if Universalism be true. I have known
families once reputed orthodox, which were then upright, moral, and justly respected.
These same families I have known become loose in morals, forsake the house of God,
turn to strong drink, and become fearfully vicious. Such families I have observed
along with this change almost always become Universalists. This is one set of facts.
On the other hand, I have never known a holy, prayerful
Universalist backslide into orthodoxy -- forsake his Universalism and his morality
and degenerate into vice and orthodoxy by one uniform and simultaneous declension.
I have known men reformed from drunkenness and vice, and then become orthodox; but
I have never known men reform from vice into Universalism. In short, it seems to
me that thousands of facts evince a natural sympathy between vice and Universalism
on the one hand, and between virtue and orthodoxy on the other.
By this time, he began to feel troubled, and said, "I am afraid I am all wrong.
Would you believe it?" said he, "I am running away from being converted.
There is a revival in my place, and I am running away from it." You are said
I. And do you think it will hurt you? Will it do you any harm?
He looked deeply anxious and said, "Had not I better go back? My good father
and mother looked sad when I left my home. I don't believe Universalism can save
me. Everybody knows it never did save anybody and never can."
The same must be said of proper Unitarianism. Some who bear this name are not such
in fact. But where you find men who deny depravity, regeneration, atonement, you
will certainly find that their system does not make them heavenly-minded, holy and
humble. You need not reason with them to find this out; you need only to take the
facts of their history.
So of Davisism -- the doctrines of Andrew Jackson Davis. Do these doctrines make
men holy? Never.
I have known a man, once a friend and patron of Gospel reforms, who turned back to
Andrew Jackson Davis. Did this change make him more holy? No, indeed. He said, "It
makes me more happy." No doubt; and for the reason that before he was only and
always under, conviction, never enjoying the peace of the Gospel. What is the use
of reasoning about his Universalism? Look at the facts! They alone are sufficient
to show its utter falsehood. Universalism never saved any man from sin. It throws
no influence in that direction. So of Mormonism, and all similar delusions. We need
not stop to write books against this and such like lies -- it stands out on the fore-front
of this system that it saves no man from sin. It is therefore a refuge of lies --
deceiving men into hopes that can never be realized. So of every creed and system
that does not save men from sin and fit them for heaven.
And now let my hearers take notice of what God says. He declares, "The hail
shall sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters shall overflow the hiding-place."
No doubt this hail is the symbol of God's displeasure. It is fit that God should
be displeased with these refuges of lies. He loves truth too well to have the least
sympathy with lies. He loves the souls of men too deeply to have any patience with
agencies so destructive. Therefore, He loathes all these refuges of lies, and has
solemnly declared that the hail shall sweep them all away.
The waters, He declares, shall overflow the hiding-places. Every resort that leaves
the soul in sin is a hiding-place. All religious affectation is such, and is nothing
better. To put on the mere appearance of devoutness and sanctimony, as if God could
be made to believe you sincere and could not see through it all. This is a flimsy
hiding-place indeed. So of all religious formality -- going through the forms of
worship, being in the Church, being baptized -- what avails it all unless their piety
be instinct with life and that life be the soul of real holiness?
A great many people hide in the church. Judas Iscariot crept in there to hide. A
minister of the Dutch Reformed Church told me once of a case in point just here.
A man who had been confirmed in that church was out at sea in a fearful storm. It
was a time of intense alarm, and many were exceedingly fearful of death, not to say
also of that terrible state beyond. When they said to him, How is it that you are
so cool? He replied, "What have I to fear -- I belong to the South Dutch!"
Many hide under orthodox creeds. They are not Unitarians; they are not Mormons; they
are not Universalists; they are orthodox! Such religious opinions held so tenaciously
must, they think, ensure their safety.
Others hide under the plea of a sinful nature. They are naturally unable to do anything.
Here they have found a sure retreat. They are very willing to do all their duty;
but this sinful nature is all against them, and what can they do? This is a refuge
Some dodge under professors of religion. I fear there are many such here among us.
Alas, your hiding-place will fail you in the day of trial! When the hail comes and
the storm rolls up fearfully, and the awful thunder breaks with appalling crash,
you will try in vain to find your professor -- to hide under his wing! Where is he
now? Suppose he were as bad as you claim, how much can he help you in that all-devouring
storm? If he is not as good as he should be, you ought to be better than he, and
not try to hide yourself under his shortcomings.
Sinners know these things to be refuges of lies, because they do not save men from
their sins. Certainly they must see this and know it to be the truth.
They resort to these refuges, not as being quite fully true, but as an excuse for
delay. Miserable subterfuge, this. They are not honest, and therefore need not think
it strange if they are deluded.
They admit that if one lives like Christ, all will be well; and they know that nothing
less than this will avail for their safety.
Of course, to seek a refuge of lies is to tempt God to destroy you. How can it be
Remember the test -- this one plain simple principle: That and only that which saves
from sin is true; all else is false and ruinous. Now you all have some hope of a
happy future; what is this hope? Good or bad? Is it truthful and sure, or is it a
refuge of lies?
Does your hope sanctify you -- does it make you humble, holy, prayerful? Does your
faith purify your heart? Have you the fruits of the Spirit -- love, joy, peace, long-suffering?
Have you daily communion with God? Are you so united to Him that you can say -- Truly
we have fellowship with the Father? If so, this will be a hiding-place indeed --
not one which the hail shall sweep away, but one which shall save the soul.
Have you the life of God in your soul? Does it pervade your heart, and diffuse itself
over all the chambers of your soul? Let nothing less than this avail to satisfy your
Hear Catholics talk about the Virgin and the sacraments and absolution; what are
all these things, and a thousand more such, good for if they do not save from sin?
What is the use of running after these things that do not save?
But you say -- I love to believe that all will be saved; it makes me so happy. But
does it make you holy? Does it renew your heart? This is the only sure test.
But you say, "I do not believe as you do." I answer, here are great facts.
You are in sin. Are you saved from your sin by your system? If so, well; if not so,
then it is not well. Will your believing it to be one way or the other make it so?
Does believing a lie make it the truth? If you were to believe that you could walk
on the water, or that water could not drown you, and should leap overboard, would
your belief save you?
Dying sinner, all those refuges of lies will surely deceive and destroy you. It is
time for you to arise and say -- I must have the religion of Jesus. Not having it,
I can not go where Jesus is. With a lie in my right hand, what have I to hope for?
None of you, I hope, have reached that forlorn state described by the prophet, "A
deceived heart hath turned him aside, neither can he say to his soul, There is a
lie in my right hand."
O, sinner, there is a Refuge for you which is not one of lies. There is a Hiding-place
for you which no waters can reach to overwhelm. It lies far above their course. O,
take refuge in Christ! away with these refuges of lies! Cry out -- Give me Christ
and none besides! Christ and Him only -- for what have I to do with lies and delusions?
You need to come into such communion with Christ that His power and presence and
fullness shall flow through your heart fully and freely, and be in you a well of
water springing up into everlasting life.
CHAPTERS 1-7 of page 1 (this page)
CHAPTERS 8-15 of page 2 ---New Window
CHAPTERS 16-24 of page 3 ---New Window
For more material
related to this topic please see
"Sermons from the Penny Pulpit"
by C. G. Finney
Main Page ---New Window
Section Sub-Index for Finney: Voices