||delphia > "SERMONS on GOSPEL THEMES" by C. G. Finney (page 2 of 3)
SERMONS ON GOSPEL THEMES
Charles G. Finney
A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age
by Charles Grandison Finney
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SERMON VIII. Back to Top
THE WICKED HEART SET TO DO EVIL.
"Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the
heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." -- Eccl. viii. 11.
THIS text manifestly assumes that the present is
not a state of rewards and punishments, in which men are treated according to their
character and conduct. This fact is not indeed affirmed, but it is assumed, as it
is also everywhere throughout the Bible. Everybody knows that ours is not a state
of present rewards and punishments; the experience and observation of every man testifies
to this fact with convincing power. Hence it is entirely proper that the Bible should
assume it as a known truth. Every man who reads his Bible must see that many things
in it are assumed to be true, and that these are precisely those things which every
man knows to be true, and which none could know more certainly if God had affirmed
them on every page of the Bible. In the case of this truth, every man knows that
he is not himself punished as he has deserved to be in the present. Every man sees
the same thing in the case of his neighbors. The Psalmist was so astounded by the
manifest injustice of things in this world, as between the various lots of the righteous
and of the wicked, that he was greatly stumbled, "until," says he, "I
went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end."
It is also assumed in this passage that all men have by nature a common heart. One
general fact is asserted of them all, and in this way they are assumed to have a
common character. "The heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."
So elsewhere. "God saw that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was
only evil continually." This is the common method in which God speaks of sinners
in His Word. He always assumes that by nature they have the same disposition.
The text also shows what the moral type of the sinner's heart is: "fully set
to do evil." But we must here pause a moment to inquire what is meant in our
passage by the term "heart."
It is obvious that this term is used in the Bible in various shades of meaning; sometimes
for the conscience, as in the passage which affirms, "If our heart condemn us,
God is greater than our heart," and may be expected the more to condemn us;
sometimes the term is used for the intelligence; but here most evidently for the
will, because this is the only faculty of the mind which can be said to be set --
fixed -- bent, determined upon a given course of voluntary action. The will is the
faculty which fixes itself upon a chosen course; hence in our text, the will must
be meant by the term heart; for otherwise no intelligible sense can be put upon the
But in what direction and to what object is the will of wicked men fully set? Answer,
to do evil. So God's Word solemnly affirms.
But, let it be said in way of explanation, this does not imply that men do evil for
the sake of the evil itself; it does not imply that sinning, considered as disobedience
to God, is their direct object -- no; the drunkard does not drink because it is wicked
to drink, but he drinks notwithstanding it is wicked. He drinks for the present good
it promises -- not for the sake of sinning. So of the man who tells lies. His object
is not to break God's law, but to get some good to himself by lying; yet he tells
the lie notwithstanding God's prohibition.
His heart may become fully set upon the practice of lying whenever it suits his convenience,
and for the good he hopes thus to gain; and it is in vain that God labors by fearful
prohibitions and penalties to dissuade him from his course. So of stealing, adultery,
and other sins. We are not to suppose that men set their heart upon these sins out
of love to pure wickedness; but they do wickedly for the sake of the good they hope
to gain thereby. The licentious man would perhaps be glad if it were not wicked to
gratify his passion; but wicked though it is, he sets his heart to do it. Adam and
Eve ate the forbidden fruit; why? Because they saw it was beautiful, and they were
told it would make them wise; hence, for the good they hoped to gain, and despite
of God's prohibition, they took and ate. I know it is sometimes said that sinners
love sin for its own sake, out of a pure love of sin as sin, simply because it is
disobedience to God, with a natural relish, as wolves love flesh; but this is not
true -- certainly not in many cases; but the simple truth is, men do not set their
hearts upon the sin for its own sake, but upon sinning for the sake of the good they
hope to get from it.
Notice particularly now the language, "heart fully set to do evil." One
man is avaricious; he sets his heart upon getting rich, honestly, if he can, but
rich any way; to get money by fair means if possible, but be sure and get it. Another
is ambitious. The love of reputation fills and fires his soul, and therefore, perhaps,
he becomes very polite and very amiable in his manners -- sometimes, very religious
-- if religion is popular, but altogether selfish, and none the less so for being
so very religious.
Selfishness takes on a thousand forms and types; but each and all are sinful, for
the whole mind should give itself up to serve God and to perform every duty as revealed
to the reason. What did Eve do? Give herself up to gratify her propensity for knowledge,
and for the good of self-indulgence. She consented to believe the lying spirit who
told her it was "a tree to be desired to make one wise." This she thought
must be very important. It was also, apparently, good for food, and her appetite
became greatly excited; the more she looked the more excited she became, and now
what should she do? God had forbidden her to touch it: shall she obey God, or obey
her own excited appetite? Despite of God's command, she ate it. Was that a sin? Many
would think it a very small sin; but it was real rebellion against God, and He could
not do otherwise than visit it with His terrific frown!
So everywhere, to yield to the demands of appetite and passion against God's claims,
is grievous sin. All men are bound to fear and obey God, however much self-denial
and sacrifice it may cost.
I said that selfishness often assumes a religious type. In the outset the mind may
be powerfully affected by some of the great and stirring truths of the Gospel; but
it presently comes to take an entirely selfish view, caring only to escape punishment,
and make religion a matter of gain. It is wonderful to see how in such cases the
mind utterly misapprehends the design of the Gospel, quite losing sight of the great
fact that it seeks to eradicate man's selfishness, and draw out his heart into pure
benevolence. Making this radical mistake, it conceives of the whole Gospel system
as a scheme for indulgences. You may see this exemplified in the view which some
take of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, which they suppose to be reckoned
to them while they are living in sin. That is, they suppose that they secure entire
exemption from the penalty of violating law, and even have the honors and rewards
of full obedience while yet they have all the self-indulgences of a life of sin.
Horrible! Were ever Romish indulgences worse than this?
Examine such a case thoroughly and you will see that selfishness is at the bottom
of all the religion there is in it. The man was worldly before and is devout now;
but devout for the same reason that he was worldly. The selfish heart forms alike
the basis of each system. The same ends are sought in the same spirit; the moral
character remains unchanged. He prays, perhaps; but if so, he asks God to do some
great things for him, to promote his own selfish purposes. He has not the remotest
idea of making such a committal of himself to God's interests that he shall henceforth
be in perfect sympathy with God, desiring and seeking only God's interests, and having
no interests other than God's to serve at all.
To illustrate this point, let us suppose that a parent should say to his children,
"I will give you my property if you will work with me, and truly identify your
interests with mine; and if you are not willing to do this, I shall disinherit you."
Now some of the children may take a perfectly selfish view of this offer, and may
say within themselves -- Now I will do just enough for father to get his money; I
will make him think that I am very zealous for his interests, and I will do just
enough to secure the offered rewards; but why should I do any more?
Or suppose the case of a human government which offers rewards to offenders on condition
of their returning to obedience. The real spirit of the offer goes the length of
asking the sincere devotion of their hearts to the best good of the government. But
they may take a wholly selfish view of the case, and determine to accept the proposal
only just far enough to secure the rewards, and only for the sake of the rewards.
The Ruler wants and expects the actual sympathy of their hearts -- their real good-will;
and this being given, would love to reward them most abundantly; but how can He be
satisfied with them if they are altogether selfish?
Now a man may be as selfish in praying as in stealing, and even far more wicked:
for he may more grievously mock God, and more impiously attempt to bribe the Almighty
to subserve his own selfish purposes. As if he supposed he could make the Searcher
of hearts his own tool; he may insolently try to induce Him to play into his own
hands, and thus may most grievously tempt Him to His face.
But the text affirms that "the heart of men is fully set in them to do evil."
Perhaps some of you think otherwise; you don't believe in such depravity. "O,"
says that fond mother, "I think my daughter is friendly to religion. Do you
think she is converted?" O no, not converted, but I think she is friendly; she
feels favorably toward religion. Does she meet the claims of God like a friend to
His government and to His reputation? I can not say about that. Ask her to repent
and what does she say? She will tell you she can not.
How striking the fact that you may go through the ranks of society and you will meet
almost everywhere with this position; the sinner says, "I can not, repent --
I can not believe." What is the matter? Where is the trouble? Go to that daughter,
thought to be so friendly to religion; she is so amiable and gentle that she can
not bear to see any pain inflicted; but mark; present to her the claims of God and
what does she say? I can not; no, I can not obey God, in one of His demands. I can
not repent of my sin, she says. But what is it to repent, that this amiable lady,
so friendly to religion withal, should be incapable of repenting? What is the matter?
Is God so unreasonable in His demands that He imposes upon you things quite impossible
for you to do? Or is it the case that you are so regardless of His feelings and so
reckless of the truth that for the sake of self-justification, you will arraign Him
on the charge of the most flagrant injustice, and falsely imply that the wrong is
all on His side and none on yours? Is this a very amiable trait of character in you?
Is this one of your proofs that the human heart is not fully set to do evil?
You can not repent and love God! You find it quite impossible to make up your mind
to serve and please God!
What is the matter? Are there no sufficient reasons apparent to your mind why you
should give up your heart to God? No reasons? Heaven, earth, and hell may all combine
to pour upon you their reasons for fearing and loving God, and yet you can not! Why?
Because your heart is fully set within you to do evil rather than good. You are altogether
committed to the pleasing of self. Jesus may plead with you -- your friends may plead;
heaven and hell may lift up their united voices to plead, and every motive that can
press on the heart from reason, conscience, hope and fear, angels and devils, God
and man, may pass in long and flashing array before your mind -- but alas! your heart
is so fully set to do evil that no motive to change can move you. What is this can
not? Nothing less or more than a mighty will not!
That amiable lady insists that she is not much depraved. O no, not she. She will
not steal! True, her selfishness takes on a most tender and delicate type. She has
most gushing sensibilities; she can not bear to see a kitten in distress; but what
does she care for God's rights? What for the rights of Jesus Christ? What does she
care for God's feelings? What does she care for the feelings and sympathies of the
crucified Son of God? just nothing at all. What, then, are all her tender sensibilities
worth? Doves and kittens have even more of this than she. Many tender ties has she,
no doubt, but they are all under the control of a perfectly selfish heart.
Mother Eve, too, was most amiable. Indeed, she was a truly pious woman before she
sinned -- and Adam no doubt thought she could be trusted everywhere; but mark how
terribly she fell! So her daughters. Giving up their hearts to a refined selfishness,
they repel God's most righteous claims, and they are fallen!
So go through all the ranks of society and you see the same thing. Go to the pirate
ship, the captain armed to the teeth and the fire of hell in his eye; ask him to
receive an offered Saviour and repent of his sins, and he gives the very same answer
as that amiable daughter does -- he can not repent. His heart, too, is so fully set
within him to do evil that he can not get his own consent to turn from his sins to
O this horrible committal of the heart to do evil! It is the only reason why the
Holy Ghost is needed to change the sinner's heart. But for this you would no more
need the Holy Ghost than an angel of light does. O how fearfully strong is the sinner's
heart against God! just where the claims of God come in he seems to have almost an
omnipotence of strength to oppose and resist! The motives of truth may roll mountain
high and beat upon his iron heart, yet see how he braces up his nerves to withstand
God. What can he not resist sooner than submit his will to God? Another thing lies
in this text, incidentally brought out -- assumed, but not affirmed -- viz., that
sinners are already under sentence. The text says, "Because sentence is not
executed speedily," implying that sentence is already passed and only waits
its appointed time for execution. You who have attended courts of justice know that
after trial and conviction next comes sentence. The culprit takes his seat on the
criminal's bench. The judge arises -- all is still as death; he reviews the case,
and comes shortly to the solemn conclusion: you are convicted by this court of the
crime alleged, and now you are to receive your sentence. Sentence is then pronounced.
After this solemn transaction, execution is commonly deferred for a period longer
or shorter according to circumstances. The object may be either to give the criminal
opportunity to secure a pardon, or if there be no hope of this, at least to give
him some days or weeks for serious reflection in which he may secure the peace of
his soul with God. For such reasons, execution is usually delayed. But after sentence,
the case is fully decided. No further doubt of guilt can interpose to affect the
case; the possibility of pardon is the only remaining hope. The awful sentence seals
his doom -- unless it be possible that pardon may be had. That sentence -- how it
sinks into the heart of the guilty culprit! "You are now," says the judge,
"remanded to the place from whence you came; there to be kept in irons, under
close confinement, until the day appointed; then to be taken forth from your prison
between the hours of ten and twelve, as the case maybe, and hung by the neck until
you are dead. And may God have mercy on your soul!" The sentence has passed
now -- the court have done their work; it only remains for the sheriff to do his
as the executioner of justice and the fearful scene closes.
So the Bible represents the case of the sinner. He is under sentence, but his sentence
is not executed speedily. Some respite is given. The arrangements of the divine government
require no court, no jury; the law itself says "The soul that sinneth, it shall
die;" "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things written
in the book of the law to do them;" so that the mandate of the law involves
the sentence of law on every sinner -- a sentence from which there can be no escape
and no reprieve except by a pardon. What a position is this for the sinner!
But next consider another strange fact. Because sentence is not executed speedily;
because there is some delay of execution; because Mercy prevails to secure for the
condemned culprit a few days' respite, so that punishment shall not tread close on
the heels of crime, therefore "the heart of the sons of men is fully set in
them to do evil." How astounding! What a perversion and abuse of the gracious
design of the King in granting a little respite from instant execution!
Let us see how it would look in the case of our friend or neighbor. He has committed
a fearful crime, is arrested, put on trial, convicted, sentenced, handed over to
the sheriff to await the day and hour of his execution. The judge says I defer the
execution that you may have opportunity to secure a pardon from the governor. I assure
you the governor is a most compassionate man -- he loves to grant pardons; he has
already pardoned thousands; if you will give up your spirit of rebellion he will
most freely forgive you all; I beg of you, therefore, that you will do no such thing
as attempt a justification; don't think of escaping death otherwise than by casting
yourself upon his mercy; don't flatter yourself that there can be any other refuge.
Now suppose this man begins, "I have done nothing -- just nothing at all. I
am simply a martyr to truth and justice, I. At all events, I have done nothing very
bad -- nothing that any government ought to notice. I don't believe I shall be sentenced
-- (the man is condemned already!) I shall live as long as the best of you."
So he sets himself to making excuses. He goes to work as if he was preparing for
a trial, and as if he expected to prove his innocence before the court. Nay, perhaps
he even sets himself to oppose and curse the government, railing at its laws and
at its officers, deeming nothing too bad to say of them, indulging himself in the
most outrageous opposition, abusing the very men whose mercy has spared his forfeited
life! How would all men be shocked to see such a case -- to see a man who should
so outrage all propriety as to give himself up to abuse the government whose righteous
laws he had just broken and then whose clemency he had most flagrantly abused! Yet
this text affirms just this to be the case of the sinner, and all observation sustains
it. You have seen it acted over ten thousand times; you can look back and see it
in your own case. You know it is all true -- fearfully, terribly true.
If it were in some striking, awful manner revealed to you this night that your soul
is damned, you would be thunder-struck. You do not believe the simple declaration
of Jehovah as it stands recorded on the pages of the Bible. You are continually saying
to yourself -- I shall not be condemned at last -- I will venture along. I will dare
to tempt His forbearance yet. I do not at all believe He will send me to hell. At
least, I will venture on a season longer and turn about by and by if I find it quite
advisable; but at present why should I fear to set my heart fully in the way God
Where will you find a parallel to such wickedness? Only think of a state of moral
hardihood that can abuse God's richest mercies -- that can coolly say -- God is so
good that I will abuse Him all I can; God loves me so much that I shall venture on
without fear to insult Him and pervert His long-suffering to the utmost hardening
of my soul in sin and rebellion.
Let each sinner observe -- the day of execution is really set. God will not pass
over it. When it arrives, there can be no more delay. God waits not because He is
in doubt about the justice of the sentence -- not because His heart misgives Him
in view of its terrible execution; but only that He may use means with you and see
if He cannot persuade you to embrace mercy. This is all; this the only reason why
judgment for a long time has lingered and the sword of justice has not long since
smitten you down.
Here is another curious fact. God has not only deferred execution, but at immense
cost has provided means for the safe exercise of mercy. You know it is naturally
a dangerous thing to bestow mercy -- there is so much danger lest it should weaken
the energy of law and encourage men to trample it down in hope of impunity. But God
has provided a glorious testimony in favor of law, going to show that it is in His
heart to sustain it at every sacrifice. He could not forgive sin until His injured
and insulted law is honored, before the universe. Having done all this in the sacrifice
of His own Son on Calvary, He can forgive without fear of consequences, provided
only that each candidate for pardon shall first be penitent.
Now, therefore, God's heart of mercy is opened wide and no fear of evil consequences
from gratuitous pardons disturbs the exercise of mercy. Before atonement, justice
stood with brandished sword, demanding vengeance on the guilty; but by and through
atoning blood, God rescued His law from peril -- He lifted it up from beneath the
impious foot of the transgressor, and set it on high in safety and glory; and now
opens wide the blessed door of mercy. Now He comes in the person of His Spirit and
invites you in. He comes to your very heart and room, sinner, to offer you the freest
possible pardon for all your sin. Do you hear that gentle rap at your door? "Behold,
I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will
come in to him and sup with him, and he with me." Look at those hands. Have
they not been pierced? Do you know those hands? Do you know where they have been
to be nailed through and through? Mark those locks wet with the dew. Ah, how long
have they been kept without in waiting for the door to open! Who is it that comes?
Is it the sheriff of justice? Has he come with his armed men to drag you away to
execution? Oh, no, no; but One comes with the cup of mercy in His hands; He approaches
your prison-gate, His eye wet with the tear of compassion, and through the diamond
of your grate He extends that cup of mercy to your parched lips. Do you see that
visage, so marred more than any man's -- and you are only the more fully set to do
evil? Ah, young man! alas, young woman! is such your heart toward the God of mercy?
Where can we find a parallel to such guilt? Can it be found anywhere else in the
universe but in this crazy world?
The scenes and transactions of earth must excite a wonderful interest in heaven.
Angels desire to look into these things. O how the whole universe look on with inquisitive
wonder to see what Christ has done, and how the sinners for whom He has suffered
and done all, requite His amazing love! When they see you set your heart only the
more fully to do evil, they stand back aghast at such unparalleled wickedness! What
can be done for such sinners but leave them to the madness and doom of their choice?
God has no other alternative. If you will abuse Him, He must execute His law, and
its fearful sentence of eternal death. Suppose it were a human government and a similar
state of facts should occur; who does not see that government might as well abdicate
at once as forbear to punish? So of God. Although He has no pleasure in the sinner's
death, and although He will never slay you because He delights in it, yet how can
He do otherwise than execute His law if He would sustain it? And how can He excuse
Himself for any failure in sustaining it? Will you stand out against Him, and flatter
yourself that He will fail of executing His awful sentence upon you? Oh, sinner,
there is no possibility that you can pass the appointed time without execution. Human
laws may possibly fail of execution: God's laws can fail never! And who is it that
says, "Their judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation
- 1. Let me ask professors of religion -- Do you
think you believe these truths? Let me suppose that here is a father and also a mother
in this house, and you have a child whom you know and admit to be under sentence
of death. You don't know but this is the very day and hour set for his execution.
How much do you feel? Does the knowledge and belief of such facts disturb your repose?
Now your theory is that the case of your child is infinitely worse than this.
- A death eternal in hell you know must be far more
awful than any public execution on earth. If your own son were under sentence for
execution on earth, how would you feel? Professing to believe him under the far more
awful sentence to hell, how do you in fact feel?
But let us spread out this case a little. Place before you that aged father and mother.
Their son went years ago to sea. Of a long time they have not seen him nor even heard
a word from him. How often have their troubled minds dwelt on his case! They do not
know how it fares with him, but they fear the worst. They had reason to know that
his principles were none too well fixed when he left home and they are afraid he
has fallen into worse and still worse society until it may be that he has become
a bold transgressor. As they are talking over these things and searching from time
to time all the newspapers they can find, to get, if they can, some clew to their
son's history, all at once the door-bell rings; a messenger comes in and hands a
letter; the old father takes it, breaks the seal -- reads a word and suddenly falls
back in his seat, the letter drops from his hand; oh, he can't read it! The mother
wonders and inquires; she rushes forward and seizes the fallen letter; she reads
a word and her heart breaks with agony. What's the matter? Their son is sentenced
to die, and he sends to see if his father and mother can come and see him before
he dies. In early morning they are off. The sympathizing neighbors gather round;
all are sorrowful, for it is a sad thing and they feel it keenly. The parents hasten
away to the prison, and learn the details of the painful case. They see at a glance
that there can be no hope of release but in a pardon. The governor lives near, they
rush to his house; but sad for them, they find him stern and inexorable. With palpitating
hearts and a load on their aching bosoms, they plead and plead, but all seems to
be in vain. He says -- Your son has been so wicked and has committed such crimes,
he must be hung. The good of the nation demands it, and I can not allow my sympathies
to overrule my sense of justice and my convictions of the public good. But the agonized
parents must hold on. O what a conflict in their minds! How the case burns upon their
hearts! At last the mother breaks out: Sir, are you a father? Have you a son? Yes,
one son. Where is he? Gone to California. How long since you heard from him? Suppose
he too should fall! Suppose you were to feel such griefs as ours, and have to mourn
over a fallen son! The governor finds himself to be a father. All the latent sensibilities
of the father's heart are aroused within him. Calling to his private secretary, he
says, Make out a pardon for their son! O what a flood of emotions they pour out!
All this is very natural. No man deems this strange at all.
But right over against this, see the case of the sinner, condemned to an eternal
hell. If your spiritual ears were opened, you would hear the chariot wheels rolling
-- the great judge coming in His car of thunder; you would see the sword of Death
gleaming in the air and ready to smite down the hardened sinner. But hear that professedly
Christian father pray for his ungodly son. He thinks he ought to pray for him once
or twice a day, so he begins; but ah, he has almost forgot his subject. He hardly
knows or thinks what he is praying about. God says, pray for your dying son! Lift
up your cries for him while yet Mercy lingers and pardon can be found. But alas!
where are the Christian parents that pray as for a sentenced and soon-to-be-executed
son! They say they believe the Bible, but do they? Do they act as if they believed
the half of its awful truths about sentenced sinners ready to go down to an eternal
hell? Yet mark -- as soon as they are spiritually awake, then how they feel! And
how they act!
What ails that professor who has no spirit of prayer and no power with God? He is
an infidel! What, when God says he is sentenced to die and his angel of death may
come in one hour and cut him down in his guilt and sin, and send his spirit quick
to hell, and yet the father or the mother have no feeling in the case -- they are
infidels; they do not believe what God has said.
- 2. Yet make another supposition. These afflicted
parents have gone to the governor; they have poured out their griefs before him and
have at last wrenched a pardon from his stern hands. They rush from his house toward
the prison, so delighted that they scarcely touch the ground; coming near they hear
songs of merriment, and they say, How our son must be agonized with company and scenes
so unsuited and so uncongenial! They meet the sheriff. Who, they ask, is that who
can sing so merrily in a prison? It is your own son. He has no idea of being executed;
he swears he will burn down the governor's house; indeed, he manifests a most determined
spirit, as if his heart were fully set on evil. Ah, say they, that is distressing;
but we can subdue his wicked and proud heart. We will show him the pardon and tell
him how the governor feels. We are sure this will subdue him. He can not withstand
such kindness and compassion.
- They come to the door; they gain admittance and
show him the pardon. They tell him how much it has cost them and how tenderly the
governor feels in the case. He seizes it, tears it to pieces, and tramples it under
his feet! O, say they, he must be deranged! But suppose it is only depravity of the
heart, and they come to see it, and know that such must be the case. Alas, they cry,
this is worst of all! What! not willing to be pardoned -- not willing to be saved!
This is worse than all the rest. Well, we must go to our desolate home. We have done
with our son! We got a pardon for him with our tears, but he will not have it. There
is nothing more that we can do.
They turn sadly away, not caring even to bid him farewell. They go home doubly saddened
-- that he should both deserve to die for his original crimes, and also for his yet
greater crime of refusing the offered pardon.
The day of execution comes; the sheriff is on hand to do his duty; from the prison
he takes his culprit to the place of execution; the multitude throng around and follow
sadly along -- suddenly a messenger rushes up to say to the criminal, "You have
torn to pieces one pardon, but here is yet one more; will you have this?" With
proud disdain he spurns even this last offer of pardon! And now where are the sympathies
of all the land? Do they say, How cruel to hang a young man, and for only such a
crime? Ah, no; no such thing at all. They see the need of law and justice; they know
that law so outraged must be allowed to vindicate itself in the culprit's execution.
And now the sheriff proclaims, "Just fifteen minutes to live;" and even
these minutes be spends in abusing the governor, and insulting the majesty of law.
The dreadful hour arrives, and its last moment -- the drop falls; he trembles a minute
under the grasp of Death, and all is still forever! He is gone and Law has been sustained
in the fearful execution of its sentence. All the people feel that this is righteous.
They can not possibly think otherwise. Even those aged parents have not a word of
complaint to utter. They approve the governor's course; they endorse the sentence.
They say, We did think he would accept the pardon! but since he would not, let him
be accursed! We love good government, we love the blessings of law and order in society
more than we love iniquity and crime. He was indeed our son, but he was also the
son of the devil!
But let us attend the execution of some of these sinners from our own congregation.
You are sent for to come out for execution. We see the messenger; we hear the sentence
read -- we see that your fatal hour has come. Shall we turn and curse God? NO, NO!
We shall do no such thing. When your drop falls, and you gasp, gasp, and die, your
guilty, terror-stricken soul goes wailing down the sides of the pit, shall we go
away to complain of God and of His justice? No, Why not? Because you might have had
mercy, but you would not. Because God waited on you long, but you only became in
heart more fully set to do evil. The universe look on and see the facts in the case;
and with one voice that rings through the vast arch of heaven, they cry, "Just
and righteous art thou in all thy ways, thou most Holy Lord God!"
Who says this is cruel? What! shall the universe take up arms against Jehovah? No.
When the universe gather together around the great white throne, and the dread sentence
goes forth, "Depart, accursed;" and away they move in dense and vast masses
as if old ocean had begun to flow off -- down, down, they sink to the depths of their
dark home; but the saints with firm step, yet solemn heart, proclaim God's law is
vindicated; the insulted majesty of both Law and Mercy is now upheld in honor, and
all is right.
Heaven is solemn, but joyful; saints are solemn, yet they cannot but rejoice in their
own glorious Father. See the crowds and masses as they move up to heaven. They look
back over the plains of Sodom and see the smoke of her burning ascend up like the
smoke of a great furnace. But they pronounce it just, and have not one word of complaint
To the yet living sinner, I have it to say today that the hour of your execution
has not yet arrived. Once more the bleeding hand offers Mercy's cup to your lips.
Think a moment; your Saviour now offers you mercy. Come, O come now and accept it.
What will you say? I'll go on still in my sins? Again, all we can say is that the
bowels of divine love are deeply moved for you -- that God has done all to save you
that He wisely can do. God's people have felt a deep and agonizing interest in you
and are ready now to cry, How can we give them up? But what more can we do -- what
more can even God do? With bleeding heart and quivering lip has Mercy followed you.
Jesus Himself said, "How often would I have gathered you -- O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
How often I would have saved you, but ye would not!" Shall Jesus behold and
weep over you, and say, "O that thou hadst known, even thou in this thy day
-- but now it is hidden from thine eyes?" What, O dying sinner, will you say?
Shall not your response be, "It is enough -- I have dashed away salvation's
cup long and wickedly enough; you need not say another word, O that bleeding hand!
those weeping eyes! Is it possible that I have withstood a Saviour's love so long?
I am ready to beg for mercy now; and I rejoice to hear that our God has a father's
He knows you have sinned greatly and grievously, but O, He says -- My compassions
have been bleeding and gushing forth toward you these many days. Will you close in
at once with terms of mercy and come to Jesus? What do you say?
Suppose an angel comes down, in robes so pure and so white; unrolls his papers, and
produces a pardon in your name, sealed with Jesus' own blood. He opens the sacred
book and reads the very passage which reveals the love of God, and asks you if you
will believe and embrace it?
What will you do?
And what shall I say to my Lord and Master? When I come to report the matter, must
I bear my testimony that you would not hear? When Christ comes so near to you, and
would fain draw you close to His warm heart, what will you do? Will you still repeat
the fatal choice, to spurn His love and dare His injured justice?
SERMON IX. Back to Top
"The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart
while they live." -- Eccl. ix. 3.
THE Bible often ascribes to unconverted men one
common heart or disposition. It always makes two classes, and only two, of our race
-- saints and sinners; the one class converted from their sin and become God's real
friends; the other remaining His unconverted enemies. According to the Bible, therefore,
the heart, in all unrenewed men, is the same in its general character. In the days
of Noah, God testified "that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and
that every imagination of the thought of his heart was only evil continually."
Observe, He speaks of the thought of their heart, as if they had one common heart
-- all alike in moral character. So by Paul, God testifies that "the carnal
mind is enmity against God," testifying thus, not of one man, or of a few men,
but of all men of carnal mind. So in our text, the phraseology is expressive: "the
heart of the sons of men is full of evil" -- as if the sons of men had but one
heart -- all in common -- and this one heart were "full of evil." You will
notice this affirmation is not made of one or two men, nor of some men, merely; but
"of the sons of men:" as if of them all.
- 1. But what is intends by affirming that "madness
is in their heart while they live?"
- This is not the madness of anger, but of insanity.
True, sometimes people are mad with anger; but this is not the sense of our text.
The Bible, as well as customary speech, employs this term, "madness" --
to express insanity. This we understand to be its sense here.
Insanity is of two kinds. One of the head; the other of the heart. In the former,
the intellect is disordered, latter, the will and voluntary powers. Intellectual
insanity destroys moral agency. The man, intellectually insane, is not, for the time,
a moral agent; moral responsibility is suspended because he can not know his duty,
and can not choose responsibly as to doing or not doing it. True, when a man makes
himself temporarily insane, as by drunkenness, the courts are obliged to hold him
responsible for his acts committed in that state; but the guilt really attaches to
the voluntary act which creates the insanity. A man who gets intoxicated by intelligently
drinking what he knows is intoxicating, must be held responsible for his acts during
the ensuing intoxication. The reason of this is, that he can foresee the danger,
and can easily avoid it.
The general law is that, while the intellect retains its usual power, so long moral
obligation remains unimpaired.
Moral insanity, on the other hand, is will-madness. The man retains his intellectual
powers unimpaired, but he sets his heart fully to do evil. He refuses to yield to
the demands of his conscience. He practically discards the obligations of moral responsibility.
He has the powers of free moral agency, but persistently abuses them. He has a reason
which affirms obligation, but he refuses obedience to its affirmations.
In this form of insanity, the reason remains unimpaired; but the heart deliberately
The insanity spoken of in the text is moral, that of the heart. By the heart here,
is meant the will -- the voluntary power. While the man is intellectually sane, he
yet acts as if he were intellectually insane.
It is important to point out some of the manifestations of this state of mind. Since
the Bible affirms it to be a fact that sinners are mad in heart, we may naturally
expect to see some manifestations of it. It is often striking to see how perfectly
the Bible daguerreotypes human character; has it done so in reference to this point?
Let us see.
Who are the morally insane?
Those who, not being intellectually insane, yet ACT as if they were.
For example, those who are intellectually insane, treat fiction as if it were reality,
and reality as if it were fiction. They act as if truth were not truth, and as if
falsehood were truth. Every man knows that insane people actually follow the wild
dreams of their own fancy, as if they were the most stern reality, and can scarcely
be made to feel the force of anything truly real.
So men, in their sins, treat the realities of the spiritual world as if they were
not real, but follow the most empty phantoms of this world, as if they were stern
They also act as if self were of supreme importance, and everything else of relatively
no importance. Suppose you were to see a man acting this out in common life. He goes
round, day after day, assuming that he is the Supreme God, and practically insisting
that everybody ought to have a supreme regard to his rights, and comparatively little
or no regard for other people's rights. Now, if you were to see a man saying this
and acting it out, would you not account him either a blasphemer or insane?
Observe, now, the wonderful fact, that while wicked men talk so sensibly as to show
that they know better, yet they act as if all this were true -- as if they supposed
their own self-interest to be more important than everything else in the universe,
and that God's interests, and rights even, are nothing in comparison. Practically,
every sinner does this.
It is an essential element in all sin. Selfish men never regard the rights of anybody
else, unless they are in some way linked with their own.
If wicked men really believed their own rights and interests to be supreme in the
universe, it would prove them intellectually insane, and we should hasten to shut
them up in the nearest mad-house; but when they show that they know better, yet act
on this groundless assumption, in the face of their better knowledge, we say, with
the Bible, that "madness is in their hearts while they live."
Again, see this madness manifested in his relative estimate of time and of eternity.
His whole life declares that, in his view, it is by far more important to secure
the good of time than the good of eternity. Yet, if a man should reason thus, should
argue to prove it, and should soberly assert it -- you would know him to be insane,
and would help him to the mad-house. But, suppose he does not say this -- dares not
say it -- knows it is not true; yet constantly acts it out, and lives on the assumption
of its truth, what then? Simply this -- he is morally mad. Madness is in his heart.
Now precisely this is the practice of every one of you who is living in sin. You
give the preference to time over eternity, You practically say -- O give me the joys
of time: why should I trouble myself yet about the trivial matters of eternity?
In the same spirit you assume that the body is more than the soul. But if a man were
to affirm this and go round trying to prove it, you would know him to be insane.
O, if he were a friend of yours, how your heart would break for his sad misfortune
reason lost! But if he knows better, yet practically lives as if it were even so,
you only say, he is morally insane -- that is all!
Suppose you see a man destroying his own property, not by accident or mistake, but
deliberately; injuring his own health, also, as if he had no care for his own interests;
you might bring his case before a judge and sue out a commission of lunacy against
him; under which the man's goods should be taken out of his own control, and he be
no longer suffered to squander them. Yet, in spiritual things, wicked men will deliberately
act against their own dearest interests; having a price put into their hands to get
wisdom, they will not use it; having the treasures of heaven placed within their
reach, they do not try to secure them; with an infinite wealth of blessedness proffered
for the mere acceptance, they will not take it as a gift. Indeed! How plain it is
that, if men were to act in temporal things as they do in spiritual, they would be
pronounced by everybody insane. Any man would take his oath of it. They would say
-- Only see; the man acts against his own interests in everything! Who can deny that
he is insane? Certainly sane men never do this!
But, in moral questions, wicked men seem to take the utmost pains to subvert their
own interests, and make themselves insolvent forever! O, how they beggar their souls,
when they might have the riches of heaven.
Again, they endeavor to realize manifest impossibilities. For example, they try to
make themselves happy in their sins and their selfishness. Yet they know they can
not do it. Ask them, and they will admit the thing is utterly impossible; and yet,
despite of this conviction, they keep up the effort perpetually to try -- as if they
expected by and by to realize a manifest impossibility. Now, in moral things, it
may not strike you as specially strange, for it is exceedingly common; but suppose,
in matters of the world, you were to see a man doing the same sort of thing, what
would you think of him? For example, you see him working hard to build a very long
ladder, and you ask him what for. He says, "I am going to scale the moon."
You see him expending his labor and his money, with the toil of a life, to get up
a mammoth ladder with which to scale the moon! Would you not say -- He is certainly
insane? For unless he were really insane, he would know it to be an utter impossibility.
But, in spiritual things, men are all the time trying to realize a result at least
equally impossible -- that of being happy in sin -- happy with a mutiny among their
own constitutional powers, the heart at war against reason and conscience. The pursuit
of happiness in sin is as if a man were seeking to bless himself by mangling his
own flesh, digging out his own eyes, knocking in his teeth. Yet men as really know
that they can not obtain happiness in sin and selfishness, as they know they can
not ensure health and comfort by mutilating their own flesh and tearing their own
nerves in sunder. Doing thus madly what they know will always defeat and never ensure
real happiness, they show themselves to be morally insane.
Another manifestation of intellectual insanity is loss of confidence in one's best
friends. Often this is one of the first and most painful evidences of insanity --
the poor man will have it that his dearest friends are set to ruin him. By no amount
of evidence can he be persuaded to think they are his real friends.
Just so sinners in their madness treat God. While they inwardly know He is their
real friend, yet they practically treat Him as their worst enemy. By no motives can
they be persuaded to confide in Him as their friend. In fact, they treat Him as if
He were the greatest liar in the universe. Wonderful to tell, they practically reverse
the regard due respectively to God and to Satan -- treating Satan as if he were God,
and God as if He were Satan. Satan they believe and obey; God they disown, dishonor,
and disobey. How strangely would they reverse the order of things! They would fain
enthrone Satan over the universe, giving him the highest seat in heaven; the Almighty
and holy God they would send to hell. They do not hesitate to surrender to Satan
the place of power over their own hearts which is due to God only.
I have already noticed the fact that insane people treat their best friends as if
they were their worst enemies, and that this is often the first proof of insanity.
If a husband, he will have it that his dear wife is trying to poison him. I have
a case in my recollection -- the first case of real insanity I ever saw, and, for
that reason perhaps, it made a strong impression on my mind. I was riding on horseback,
and, coming near a house, I noticed a chamber window up and heard a most unearthly
cry. As soon as I came near enough to catch the words, I heard a most wild, imploring
voice, "Stranger, stranger, come here -- here is the great whore of Babylon;
they are trying to kill me, they will kill me." I dismounted; came up to the
house, and there I found a man shut up in a cage, and complaining most bitterly of
his wife. As I turned towards her I saw she looked sad, as if a load of grief lay
heavy on her heart. A tear trembled in her eye. Alas, her dear husband was a maniac!
Then I first learned how the insane are wont to regard their best friends.
Now, sinners know better of God and of their other real friends; and yet they very
commonly treat them in precisely this way. Just as if they were to go into the places
of public resort, and lift up their voices to all bystanders -- Hello, there, all
ye -- be it known to you, "the Great God is an almighty tyrant! He is not fit
to be trusted or loved!"
Now, everybody knows they treat God thus practically. They regard the service of
God -- religion -- as if it were inconsistent with their real and highest happiness.
I have often met with sinners who seemed to think that every attempt to make them
Christians is a scheme to take them in and sell them into slavery. They by no means
estimate religion as if it came forth from a God of love. Practically, they treat
religion as if embraced it would be their ruin. Yet, in all this, they act utterly
against their own convictions. They know better. If they did not, their guilt would
be exceedingly small compared with what it is.
Another remarkable manifestation of insanity is, to be greatly excited about trifles,
and apathetic about the most important matters in the universe. Suppose you see a
man excited about straws and pebbles -- taking unwearied pains to gather them into
heaps, and store them away as treasures; yet, when a fire breaks out around his dwelling
and the village is in flames, he takes no notice of it, and feels no interest; or
people may die on every side with the plague, but he heeds it not; would you not
say, he must be insane? But this is precisely true of sinners. They are almost infinitely
excited about worldly good -- straws and pebbles, compared with God's proffered treasures;
but O, how apathetic about the most momentous events in the universe! The vast concerns
of their souls scarcely stir up one earnest thought. If they did not know better,
you would say -- Certainly, their reason is dethroned; but since they do know better,
you can not say less than that they are morally insane, "madness is in their
heart while they live."
The conduct of impenitent men is the perfection of irrationality. When you see it
as it is, you will get a more just and vivid idea of irrationality than you can get
from any other source. You see this in the ends to which they devote themselves,
and in the means which they employ to secure them. All is utterly unreasonable. An
end madly chosen -- sought by means madly devised; this is the life-history of the
masses who reject God. If this were the result of wrong intellectual judgments, we
should say at once that the race have gone mad.
Bedlam itself affords no higher evidence of intellectual insanity than every sinner
does of moral. You may go to Columbus, and visit every room occupied by the inmates
of the Lunatic Asylum; you can not find one insane person who gives higher evidence
of intellectual insanity than every sinner does of moral. If bedlam itself furnishes
evidence that its bedlamites are crazy, intellectually; so does every sinner that
he is mad, morally.
Sinners act as if they were afraid they should be saved. Often they seem to be trying
to make their salvation as difficult as possible. For example, they all know what
Christ has said about the danger of riches and the difficulty of saving rich men.
They have read from His lips, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter
into the kingdom of God." "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye
of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." This they
know, and yet how many of them are in mad haste to be rich! For this end, some are
ready to sacrifice their conscience -- some their health -- all seem ready, deliberately,
to sacrifice their souls! How could they more certainly ensure their own damnation!
Thus they regard damnation as if it were salvation, and salvation as if it were damnation.
They rush upon damnation as if it were heaven, and flee salvation as if it were hell.
Is this exaggeration? No; this is only the simple truth. Sinners press down the way
to hell as if it were the chief good of their existence, and shun the way to heaven
as if it were the consummation of evil. Sinner, this is your own moral state. The
picture gives only the naked facts of the case, without exaggeration.
- 3. This moral insanity is a state of unmingled
wickedness. The special feature of it which makes it a guilty state, is that it is
altogether voluntary. It results not from the loss of reason, but from the abuse
of reason. The will persists in acting against reason and conscience. Despite of
the affirmations of reason, and reckless of the admonitions of conscience, the sinner
presses on in his career of rebellion against God and goodness. In such voluntary
wickedness, must there not be intrinsic guilt?
- Besides, this action is oftentimes deliberate.
The man sins in his cool, deliberate moments, as well as in his excited moments.
If he sins most overtly and boldly in his excited moments he does not repent and
change his position towards God in his deliberate moments, but virtually endorses
then the hasty purposes of his more excited hours. This heightens his guilt.
Again, his purposes of sin are obstinate and unyielding. In ten thousand ways, God
is bringing influences to bear on his mind to change his purposes; but usually in
vain. This career of sin is in violation of all his obligations. Who does not know
this? The sinner never acts from right motives -- never yields to the sway of a sense
of obligation -- never practically recognizes his obligation to love his neighbor
as himself, or to honor the Lord his God.
It is a total rejection of both God's law and Gospel. The law he will not obey; the
Gospel of pardon he will not accept. He seems determined to brave the Omnipotence
of Jehovah, and dare His vengeance. Is he not mad upon his idols? Is it saying too
much when the Bible affirms, "Madness is in their heart while they live?"
- 1. Sinners strangely accuse saints of being mad
and crazy. Just as soon as Christian people begin to act as if the truth they believe
is a reality, then wicked men cry out, "See, they are getting crazy." Yet
those very sinners admit the Bible to be true, and admit those things which Christians
believe as true to be really so; and, further still, they admit that those Christians
are doing only what they ought to do, and only as themselves ought to act; still,
they charge them with insanity. It is curious that even those sinners themselves
know these Christians to be the only rational men on the earth. I can well recollect
that I saw this plainly before my conversion. I knew then that Christians were the
only people in all the world who had any valid claim to be deemed sane.
- 2. If intellectual insanity be a shocking fact,
how much more so is moral? I have referred to my first impressions at the sight of
one who was intellectually insane, but a case of moral insanity ought to be deemed
far more afflictive and astounding. Suppose the case of a Webster. His brain becomes
softened; he is An idiot! There is not a man in all the land but would feel solemn.
What! Daniel Webster -- that great man, an idiot! How have the mighty fallen! What
a horrible sight!
- But how much more horrible to see him become a
moral idiot -- to see a selfish heart run riot with the clear decisions of his gigantic
intellect -- to see his moral principles fading away before the demands of selfish
ambition -- to see such a man become a drunkard, a debauchee, a loafer; if this were
to occur in a Daniel Webster, how inexpressively shocking! Intellectual idiocy is
not to be named in the comparison!
- 3. Although some sinners may be externally fair,
and may seem to be amiable in temper and character, yet every real sinner is actually
insane. In view of all these solemnities of eternity, he insists on being controlled
only by the things of time. With the powers of an angel, he aims not above the low
pursuits of a selfish heart. How must angels look on such a case! Eternity so vast,
and its issues so dreadful, yet this sinner drives furiously to hell as if he were
on the high-road to heaven! And all this only because he is infatuated with the pleasures
of sin for a season. At first view, he seems to have really made the mistake of hell
for heaven; but, on a closer examination, you see it is no real mistake of the intellect;
he knows very well the difference between hell and heaven; but he is practically
deluding himself under the impulses of his mad heart! The mournful fact is, he loves
sin, and after that he will go! Alas, alas! so insane, he rushes greedily on his
own damnation, just as if he were in pursuit of heaven!
- We shudder at the thought that any of our friends
are becoming idiotic or lunatic; but this is not half so bad as to have one of them
become wicked. Better have a whole family become idiotic than one of them become
a hardened sinner. Indeed, the former, compared with the latter, is as nothing. For
the idiot shall not always be so. When this mortal is laid away in the grave, the
soul may look out again in the free air of liberty, as if it had never been immured
in a dark prison; and the body, raised again, may bloom in eternal vigor and beauty;
but, alas, moral insanity only waxes worse and worse forever! The root of this being
not in a diseased brain, but in a diseased heart and soul, death can not cure it;
the resurrection will only raise him to shame and everlasting contempt; and the eternal
world will only give scope to his madness to rage on with augmented vigor and wider
Some persons are more afraid of being called insane than of being called wicked.
Surely they show the fatal delusion that is in their hearts.
Intellectual insanity is only pitiable, not disgraceful; but moral insanity is unspeakably
disgraceful. None need wonder that God should say, "Some shall arise to shame
and everlasting contempt."
Conversion to God is becoming morally sane. It consists in restoring the will and
the affections to the just control of the intelligence, the reason, and the conscience,
so as to put the man once more in harmony with himself -- all his faculties adjusted
to their true positions and proper functions.
Sometimes persons who have become converted, but not well established, backslide
into moral insanity. Just as persons sometimes relapse into intellectual insanity,
after being apparently quite restored. This is a sad case, and brings sorrow upon
the hearts of friends. Yet, in no case can it be so sad as a case of backsliding
into moral insanity.
An intellectual bedlam is a mournful place. How can the heart of any human sensibility
contemplate such a scene without intense grief? Mark, as you pass through those halls,
the traces of intellectual ruin; there is a noble-looking woman, perfectly insane;
there is a man of splendid mien and bearing -- all in ruins! How awful! Then, if
this be so, what a place is hell! These, intellectual bedlams are awful; how much
more the moral bedlam!
Suppose we go to Columbus and visit its Lunatic Ayslum; go round to all its wards
and study the case of each inmate; then we will go to Indiana; then to New York,
and so through all the Asylums of each several State. Then we will visit London and
its Asylum, where we may find as many insane as in all our Union. Would not this
be a mournful scene? Would not you cry out long before we had finished -- Enough!
Enough! How can I bear these sights of mad men! How can I endure to behold such desolation!
Suppose, then, we go next to the great moral bedlam of the universe -- the hell of
lost souls; for if men will make themselves mad, God must shut them up in one vast
bedlam cell. Why should not He? The weal of His empire demands that all the moral
insanity of His kingdom should be withdrawn from the society of the holy, and shut
up alone and apart. There are those whose intellects are right, but whose hearts
are all wrong. Ah, what a place must that be in which to spend one's eternity! The
great mad-house of the universe!
Sometimes sinners here, aware of their own insanity, get glimpses of this fearful
state. I recollect that, at one time, I got this idea that Christians are the only
persons who can claim to be rational, and then I asked myself -- Why should I not
so? Would it hurt me to obey God? Would it ruin my peace, or damage my prospects
for either this life or the next? Why do I go on so?
I said to myself -- I can give no account of it, only that I am mad. All that I can
say is that my heart is set on iniquity, and will not turn.
Alas, poor maniac! Not unfortunate, but wicked! How many of you know that this is
your real case? O, young man, did your father think you were sane when he sent you
here? Ah, you were so intellectually, perhaps, but not morally. As to your moral
nature and functions, all was utterly deranged. My dear young friend, does your own
moral course commend itself to your conscience and your reason? If not, what are
you but a moral maniac? Young man, young woman, must you in truth write yourselves
down moral maniacs?
Finally, the subject shows the importance of not quenching the Spirit. This is God's
agency for the cure of moral maniacs. O, if you put out His light from your souls,
there remains to you only the blackness of darkness forever! Said a young man in
Lane Seminary, just dying in his sins -- Why did you not tell me there is such a
thing as eternal damnation? Weld, why did not you tell me? I did. Oh, I am going
there -- how can I die so? It's growing dark; bring in a light! And so he passed
away from this world of light and hope!
O sinner, take care that you put not out the light which God has cast into your dark
heart, lest, when you pass away it shall grow dark to your soul at midday -- the
opening into the blackness of darkness forever.
SERMON X. Back to Top
CONDITIONS OF BEING SAVED.
"What must I do to be saved?" -- Acts xvi. 30.
I BRING forward this subject today not because
it is new to many in this congregation, but because it is greatly needed. I am happy
to know that the great inquiry of our text is beginning to be deeply and extensively
agitated in this community, and under these circumstances it is the first duty of
a Christian pastor to answer it, fully and plainly.
The circumstances which gave occasion to the words of the text were briefly these.
Paul and Silas had gone to Philippi to preach the Gospel. Their preaching excited
great opposition and tumult; they were arrested and thrown into prison, and the jailer
was charged to keep them safely. At midnight they were praying and singing praises
-- God came down -- the earth quaked and the prison rocked -- its doors burst open,
and their chains fell off; the jailer sprang up affrighted, and, supposing his prisoners
had fled, was about to take his own life, when Paul cried out, "Do thyself no
harm; we are all here." He then called for a light, and sprang in and came trembling,
and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, "Sirs, what
must I do to be saved?"
This is briefly the history of our text; and I improve it now, by showing;
I. What sinners must not do to be saved; and
II. What they must do.
I. What sinners must not do to be saved.
It has now come to be necessary and very important to tell men what they must not
do in order to be saved. When the Gospel was first preached, Satan had not introduced
as many delusions to mislead men as he has now. It was then enough to give, as Paul
did, the simple and direct answer, telling men only what they must at once do. But
this seems to be not enough now. So many delusions and perversions have bewildered
and darkened the minds of men that they need often a great deal of instruction to
lead them back to those simple views of the subject which prevailed at first. Hence
the importance of showing what sinners must not do, if they intend to be saved.
- 1. They must not imagine that they have nothing
to do. In Paul's time nobody seems to have thought of this. Then the doctrine of
Universalism was not much developed. Men had not begun to dream that they should
be saved without doing anything. They had not learned that sinners have nothing to
do to be saved. If this idea, so current of late, had been rife at Philippi, the
question of our text would not have been asked. No trembling sinner would have cried
out, What must I do to be saved?
- If men imagine they have nothing to do, they are
never likely to be saved. It is not in the nature of falsehood and lies to save men's
souls, and surely nothing is more false than this notion. Men know they have something
to do to be saved. Why, then, do they pretend that all men will be saved whether
they do their duty, or constantly refuse to do it? The very idea is preposterous,
and is entertained only by the most palpable outrage upon common sense and an enlightened
- 2. You should not mistake what you have to do.
The duty required of sinners is very simple, and would be easily understood were
it not for the false ideas that prevail as to what religion is, and as to the exact
things which God requires as conditions of salvation. On these points erroneous opinions
prevail to a most alarming extent. Hence the danger of mistake. Beware lest you be
deceived in a matter of so vital moment.
- 3. Do not say or imagine that you cannot do what
God requires. On the contrary, always assume that you can. If you assume that you
cannot, this very assumption will be fatal to your salvation.
- 4. Do not procrastinate. As you ever intend or
hope to be saved, you must set your face like a flint against this most pernicious
delusion. Probably no other mode of evading present duty has ever prevailed so extensively
as this, or has destroyed so many souls. Almost all men in Gospel lands intend to
prepare for death -- intend to repent and become religious before they die. Even
Universalists expect to become religious at some time -- perhaps after death -- perhaps
after being purified from their sins by purgatorial fires; but somehow they expect
to become holy, for they know they must before they can see God and enjoy His presence.
But you will observe, they put this matter of becoming holy off to the most distant
time possible. Feeling a strong dislike to it now, they flatter themselves that God
will take care that it shall be done up duly in the next world, how much soever they
may frustrate His efforts to do it in this. So long as it remains in their power
to choose whether to become holy or not, they improve the time to enjoy sin; and
leave it with God to make them holy in the next world -- if they can't prevent it
there! Consistency is a jewel!
- And all those who put off being religious now
in the cherished delusion of becoming so in some future time, whether in this world
or the next, are acting out this same inconsistency. You fondly hope that will occur
which you are now doing your utmost to prevent.
So sinners by myriads press their way down to hell under this delusion. They often,
when pressed with the claims of God, will even name the time when they will repent.
It may be very near -- perhaps as soon as they get home from the meeting, or as soon
as the sermon is over; or it may be more remote, as, for example, when they have
finished their education, or become settled in life, or have made a little more property,
or get ready to abandon some business of questionable morality; but no matter whether
the time set be near or remote, the delusion is fatal -- the thought of procrastination
is murder to the soul. Ah, such sinners are little aware that Satan himself has poured
out his spirit upon them and is leading them whithersoever he will. He little cares
whether they put off for a longer time or a shorter. If he can persuade them to a
long delay, he likes it well; if only to a short one, he feels quite sure he can
renew the delay and get another extension -- so it answers his purpose fully in the
Now mark, sinner, if you ever mean to be saved you must resist and grieve away this
spirit of Satan. You must cease to procrastinate. You can never be converted so long
as you operate only in the way of delaying and promising yourself that you will become
religious at some future time. Did you ever bring anything to pass in your temporal
business by procrastination? Did procrastination ever begin, prosecute, and accomplish
any important business?
Suppose you have some business of vast consequence, involving your character, or
your whole estate, or your life, to be transacted in Cleveland, but you do not know
precisely how soon it must be done. It may be done with safety now, and with greater
facility now than ever hereafter; but it might possibly be done although you should
delay a little time, but every moment's delay involves an absolute uncertainty of
your being able to do it at all. You do not know but a single hour's delay will make
yon too late. Now in these circumstances what would a man of sense and discretion
do? Would he not be awake and up in an instant?
Would he sleep on a matter of such moment, involving such risks and uncertainties?
No. You know that the risk of a hundred dollars, pending on such conditions, would
stir the warm blood of any man of business, and you could not tempt him to delay
an hour. O, he would say, this is the great business to which I must attend, and
everything else must give way. But suppose he should act as a sinner does about repentance,
and promise himself that tomorrow will be as this day and much more abundant -- and
do nothing today, nor tomorrow, nor the next month, nor the next year -- would you
not think him beside himself? Would you expect his business to be done, his money
to be secured, his interests to be promoted?
So the sinner accomplishes nothing but his own ruin so long as he procrastinates.
Until he says, "Now is my time -- today I will do all my duty" -- he is
only playing the fool and laying up his wages accordingly. O, it is infinite madness
to defer a matter of such vast interest and of such perilous uncertainty!
- 5. If you would be saved you must not wait for
God to do what He commands you to do. God will surely do all that He can for your
salvation. All that the nature of the case allows of His doing, He either has done
or stands ready to do as soon as your position and course will allow Him to do it.
Long before you were born He anticipated your wants as a sinner, and began on the
most liberal scale to make provision for them. He gave His Son to die for you, thus
doing all that need be done by way of an atonement. Of a long time past He has been
shaping His providence so as to give you the requisite knowledge of duty -- has sent
you His Word and Spirit. Indeed, He has given you the highest possible evidence that
He will be energetic and prompt on His part -- as one in earnest for your salvation.
You know this. What sinner in this house fears lest God should be negligent on His
part in the matter of his salvation? Not one. No, many of you are not a little annoyed
that God should press you so earnestly and be so energetic in the work of securing
your salvation. And now can you quiet your conscience with the excuse of waiting
for God to do your duty?
- The fact is, there are things for you to do which
God can not do for you. Those things which He has enjoined and revealed as the conditions
of your salvation, He cannot and will not do Himself. If He could have done them
Himself, He would not have asked you to do them. Every sinner ought to consider this.
God requires of you repentance and faith because it is naturally impossible that
any one else but you should do them. They are your own personal matters -- the voluntary
exercises of your own mind; and no other being in heaven, earth, or hell, can do
these things for you in your stead. As far as substitution was naturally possible,
God has introduced it, as in the case of the atonement. He has never hesitated to
march up to meet and to bear all the self-denials which the work of salvation has
- 6. If you mean to be saved, you must not wait
for God to do anything whatever. There is nothing to be waited for. God has either
done all on His part already, or if anything more remains, He is ready and waiting
this moment for you to do your duty that He may impart all needful grace.
- 7. Do not flee to any refuge of lies. Lies cannot
save you. It is truth, not lies, that alone can save. I have often wondered how men
could suppose that Universalism could save any man.
- Men must be sanctified by the truth. There is
no plainer teaching in the Bible than this, and no Bible doctrine is better sustained
by reason and the nature of the case.
Now does Universalism sanctify anybody? Universalists say you must be punished for
your sins, and that thus they will be put away -- as if the fires of purgatory would
thoroughly consume all sin, and bring out the sinner pure. Is this being sanctified
by the truth? You might as well hope to be saved by eating liquid fire! You might
as well expect fire to purify your soul from sin in this world, as in the next! Why
It is amazing that men should hope to be sanctified and saved by this great error,
or, indeed, by any error whatever. God says you must be sanctified by the truth.
Suppose you could believe this delusion, would it make you holy? Do you believe that
it would make you humble, heavenly-minded, sin-hating, benevolent? Can you believe
any such thing? Be assured that Satan is only the father of lies, and he cannot save
you -- in fact, he would not if he could; he intends his lies not to save you, but
to destroy your very soul, and nothing could be more adapted to its purpose. Lies
are only the natural poison of the soul. You take them at your peril!
- 8. Don't seek for any self-indulgent method of
salvation. The great effort among sinners has always been to be saved in some way
of self-indulgence. They are slow to admit that self-denial is indispensable -- that
total, unqualified self-denial is the condition of being saved. I warn you against
supposing that you can be saved in some easy, self-pleasing way. Men ought to know,
and always assume, that it is naturally indispensable for selfishness to be utterly
put away and its demands resisted and put down.
- I often ask -- Does the system of salvation which
I preach so perfectly chime with the intuitions of my reason that I know from within
myself that this Gospel is the thing I need? Does it in all its parts and relations
meet the demands of my intelligence? Are its requisitions obviously just and right?
Does its prescribed conditions of salvation obviously befit man's moral position
before God, and his moral relations to the government of God?
To these and similar questions I am constrained to answer in the affirmative. The
longer I live the more fully I see that the Gospel system is the only one that can
alike meet the demands of the human intelligence, and supply the wants of man's sinning,
depraved heart. The duties enjoined upon the sinner are just those things which I
know must in the nature of the case be the conditions of salvation. Why, then, should
any sinner think of being saved on any other conditions? Why desire it even if it
were ever so practicable?
- 9. Don't imagine you will ever have a more favourable
time. Impenitent sinners are prone to imagine that just now is by no means so convenient
a season as may be expected hereafter. So they put off in hope of a better time.
They think perhaps that they shall have more conviction, and fewer obstacles, and
less hindrances. So thought Felix. He did not intend to forego salvation, any more
than you do; but he was very busy just then -- had certain ends to be secured which
seemed peculiarly pressing, and so he begged to be excused on the promise of very
faithful attention to the subject at the expected convenient season. But did the
convenient season ever come? Never. Nor does it ever come to those who in like manner
resist God's solemn call, and grieve away His Spirit. Thousands are now waiting in
the pains of hell who said just as he did, "Go thy way for this time, when I
have a convenient season I will call for thee." Oh, sinner, when will your convenient
season come? Are you aware that no season will ever be "convenient" for
you, unless God calls up your attention earnestly and solemnly to the subject? And
can you expect Him to do this at the time of your choice, when you scorn His call
at the time of His choice? Have you not heard Him say, "Because I have called,
and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded, but ye have set
at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your
calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh. When your fear cometh as desolation,
and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind, when distress and anguish cometh upon
you; then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early,
but they shall not find me." O, sinner, that will be a fearful and a final doom!
And the myriad voices of God's universe will say, amen.
- 10. Do not suppose that you will find another
time as good, and one in which you can just as well repent as now. Many are ready
to suppose that though there may be no better time for themselves, there will at
least be one as good. Vain delusion! Sinner, you already owe ten thousand talents,
and will you find it just as easy to be forgiven this debt while you are showing
that you don't care how much and how long you augment it? In a case like this, where
everything turns upon your securing the good-will of your creditor, do you hope to
gain it by positively insulting him to his face?
- Or take another view of the case. Your heart you
know must one day relent for sin, or you are forever damned. You know also that each
successive sin increases the hardness of your heart, and makes it a more difficult
matter to repent. How, then, can you reasonably hope that a future time will be equally
favourable for your repentance? When you have hardened your neck like an iron sinew,
and made your heart like an adamant stone, can you hope that repentance will yet
be as easy to you as ever?
You know, sinner, that God requires you to break off from your sins now. But you
look up into His face and say to Him, "Lord, it is just as well to stop abusing
Thee at some future convenient time. Lord, if I can only be saved at last, I shall
think it all my gain to go on insulting and abusing Thee as long as it will possibly
answer. And since Thou art so very compassionate and long-suffering, I think I may
venture on in sin and rebellion against Thee yet these many months and years longer.
Lord, don't hurry me -- do let me have my way; let me abase Thee if Thou pleasest,
and spit in Thy face -- all will be just as well if I only repent in season so as
finally to be saved. I know, indeed, that Thou art entreating me to repent now, but
I much prefer to wait a season, and it will be just as well to repent at some future
And now do you suppose that God will set His seal to this -- that He will say, "You
are right, sinner, I set my seal of approbation upon your course -- it is well that
you take so just views of your duty to your Maker and your Father; go on; your course
will ensure your salvation." Do you expect such a response from God as this?
- 11. If you ever expect to be saved, don't wait
to see what others will do or say. I was lately astonished to find that a young lady
here under conviction was in great trouble about what a beloved brother would think
of her if she should give her heart to God. She knew her duty; but he was impenitent,
and how could she know what he would think if she should repent now! It amounts to
this. She would come before God and say, "O Thou great God, I know I ought to
repent, but I can't; for I don't know as my brother will like it. I know that he
too is a sinner, and must repent or lose his soul, but I am much more afraid of his
frown than I am of Thine, and I care more for his approbation than I do for Thine,
and consequently, I dare not repent till he does!" How shocking is this! Strange
that on such a subject men will ever ask "What will others say of me?"
Are you amenable to God? What, then, have others to say about your duty to Him? God
requires you and them also to repent, and why don't you do it at once?
- Not long since, as I was preaching abroad, one
of the principal men of the city came to the meeting for inquiry, apparently much
convicted and in great distress for his soul. But being a man of high political standing,
and supposing himself to be very dependent upon his friends, he insisted that he
must consult them, and have a regard for their feelings in this matter. I could not
possibly beat him off from this ground, although I spent three hours in the effort.
He seemed almost ready to repent -- I thought he certainly would; but he slipped
away, relapsed by a perpetual backsliding, and I expect will be found at last among
the lost in perdition. Would you not expect such a result if he tore himself away
under such an excuse as that?
O, sinner, you must not care what others say of you -- let them say what they please.
Remember, the question is between your own soul and God, and "He that is wise
shall be wise for himself, and he that scorneth, he alone shall bear it." You
must die for yourself, and for yourself must appear before God in judgment! Go, young
woman, ask your brother, "Can you answer for me when I come to the judgment?
Can you pledge yourself that you can stand in my stead and answer for me there?"
Now until you have reason to believe that he can, it is wise for you to disregard
his opinions if they stand at all in your way. Whoever interposes any objection to
your immediate repentance, fail not to ask him -- Can you shield my soul in the judgment?
If I can be assured that you can and will, I will make you my Saviour; but if not,
then I must attend to my own salvation, and leave you to attend to yours.
I never shall forget the scene which occurred while my own mind was turning upon
this great point. Seeking a retired place for prayer, I went into a deep grove, found
a perfectly secluded spot behind some large logs, and knelt down. All suddenly, a
leaf rustled and I sprang, for somebody must be coming and I shall be seen here at
prayer. I had not been aware that I cared what others said of me, but looking back
upon my exercises of mind here, I could see that I did care infinitely too much what
others thought of me.
Closing my eyes again for prayer, I heard a rustling leaf again, and then the thought
came over me like a wave of the sea, "I am ashamed of confessing my sin!"
What! thought I, ashamed of being found speaking with God! O, how ashamed I felt
of this shame! I can never describe the strong and overpowering impression which
this thought made on my mind. I cried aloud at the very top of my voice, for I felt
that though all the men on earth and all the devils in hell were present to hear
and see me I would not shrink and would not cease to cry unto God; for what is it
to me if others see me seeking the face of my God and Saviour? I am hastening to
the judgment: there I shall not be ashamed to have the Judge my friend. There I shall
not be ashamed to have sought His face and His pardon here. There will be no shrinking
away from the gaze of the universe. O, if sinners at the judgment could shrink away,
how gladly would they; but they cannot! Nor can they stand there in each other's
places to answer for each other's sins. That young woman, can she say then -- O,
my brother, you must answer for me; for to please you, I rejected Christ and lost
my soul? That brother is himself a guilty rebel, confounded, and agonized, and quailing
before the awful Judge, and how can he befriend you in such an awful hour! Fear not
his displeasure now, but rather warn him while you can, to escape for his life ere
the wrath of the Lord wax hot against him, and there be no remedy.
- 12. If you would be saved, you must not indulge
prejudices against either God, or His ministers, or against Christians, or against
- There are some persons of peculiar temperament
who are greatly in danger of losing their souls because they are tempted to strong
prejudices. Once committed either in favour of or against any persons or things they
are exceedingly apt to become so fixed as never more to be really honest. And when
these persons or things in regard to which they become committed, are so connected
with religion, that their prejudices stand arrayed against their fulfilling the great
conditions of salvation, the effect can be nothing else than ruinous. For it is naturally
indispensable to salvation that you should be entirely honest. Your soul must act
before God in the open sincerity of truth, or you cannot be converted.
I have known persons in revivals to remain a long time under great conviction, without
submitting themselves to God, and by careful inquiry I have found them wholly hedged
in by their prejudices, and yet so blind to this fact that they would not admit that
they had any prejudice at all. In my observation of convicted sinners, I have found
this among the most common obstacles in the way of the salvation of souls. Men become
committed against religion, and remaining in this state it is naturally impossible
that they should repent. God will not humour your prejudices, or lower His prescribed
conditions of salvation to accommodate your feelings.
Again, you must give up all hostile feelings in cases where you have been really
injured. Sometimes I have seen persons evidently shut out from the kingdom of heaven,
because having been really injured, they would not forgive and forget, but maintained
such a spirit of resistance and revenge, that they could not, in the nature of the
case, repent of the sin toward God, nor could God forgive them. Of course they lost
heaven. I have heard men say, "I cannot forgive -- I will not forgive -- I have
been injured, and I never will forgive that wrong." Now mark: you must not hold
on to such feelings; if you do, you cannot be saved.
Again, you must not suffer yourself to be stumbled by the prejudices of others. I
have often been struck with the state of things in families, where the parents or
older persons had prejudices against the minister, and have wondered why those parents
were not more wise than to lay stumbling-blocks before their children to ruin their
souls. This is often the true reason why children are not converted. Their minds
are turned against the Gospel, by being turned against those from whom they hear
it preached. I would rather have persons come into my family, and curse and swear
before my children, than to have them speak against those who preach to them the
Gospel. Therefore I say to all parents -- take care what you say, if you would not
shut the gate of heaven against your children!
Again, do not allow yourself to take some fixed position, and then suffer the stand
you have taken to debar you from doing any obvious duty. Persons sometimes allow
themselves to be committed against taking what is called "the anxious seat;"
and consequently they refuse to go forward under circumstances when it is obviously
proper that they should, and where their refusal to do so, places them in an attitude
unfavourable, and perhaps fatal to their conversion. Let every sinner beware of this!
Again, do not hold on to anything about which you have any doubt of its lawfulness
or propriety. Cases often occur in which persons are not fully satisfied that a thing
is wrong, and yet are not satisfied that it is right. Now in cases of this sort it
should not be enough to say, "such and such Christians do so;" you ought
to have better reasons than this for your course of conduct. If you ever expect to
be saved, you must abandon all practices which you even suspect to be wrong. This
principle seems to be involved in the passage, "He that doubteth is damned if
he eat; for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." To do that which is of doubtful
propriety is to allow yourself to tamper with the divine authority, and cannot fail
to break down in your mind that solemn dread of sinning which, if you would ever
be saved, you must carefully cherish.
Again, if you would be saved, do not look at professors and wait for them to become
engaged as they should be in the great work of God. If they are not what they ought
to be, let them alone. Let them bear their own awful responsibility. It often happens
that convicted sinners compare themselves with professed Christians, and excuse themselves
for delaying their duty, because professed Christians are delaying theirs. Sinners
must not do this if they would ever be saved. It is very probable that you will always
find guilty professors enough to stumble over into hell if you will allow yourself
to do so.
But on the other hand, many professors may not be nearly so bad as you suppose, and
you must not be censorious, putting the worst constructions upon their conduct. You
have other work to do than this. Let them stand or fall to their own master. Unless
you abandon the practice of picking flaws in the conduct of professed Christians,
it is utterly impossible that you should be saved.
Again, do not depend upon professors -- on their prayers or influence in any way.
I have known children hang a long time upon the prayers of their parents, putting
those prayers in the place of Jesus Christ, or at least in the place of their own
present efforts to do their duty. Now this course pleases Satan entirely. He would
ask nothing more to make sure of you. Therefore, depend on no prayers -- not even
those of the holiest Christians on earth. The matter of your conversion lies between
yourself and God alone, as really as if you were the only sinner in all the world,
or as if there were no other beings in the universe but yourself and your God.
Do not seek for any apology or excuse whatever. I dwell upon this and urge it the
more because I so often find persons resting on some excuse without being themselves
aware of it. In conversation with them upon their spiritual state, I see this and
say, "There you are resting on that excuse." "Am I?" say they,
"I did not know it."
Do not seek for stumbling-blocks. Sinners, a little disturbed in their stupidity,
begin to cast about for stumbling-blocks for self-vindication. All at once they become
wide awake to the faults of professors, as if they had to bear the care of all the
churches. The real fact is, they are all engaged to find something to which they
can take exception, so that they can thereby blunt the keen edge of truth upon their
own consciences. This never helps along their own salvation.
Do not tempt the forbearance of God. If you do, you are in the utmost danger of being
given over forever. Do not presume that you may go on yet longer in your sins, and
still find the gate of mercy. This presumption has paved the way for the ruin of
Do not despair of salvation and settle down in unbelief, saying, "There is no
mercy for me." You must not despair in any such sense as to shut yourself out
from the kingdom. You may well despair of being saved without Christ and without
repentance; but you are bound to believe the Gospel; and to do this is to believe
the glad tidings that Jesus Christ has come to save sinners, even the chief, and
that "Him that cometh to Him He will in no wise cast out." You have no
right to disbelieve this, and act as if there were no truth in it.
You must not wait for more conviction. Why do you need any more? You know your guilt
and know your present duty. Nothing can be more preposterous, therefore, than to
wait for more conviction. If you did not know that you are a sinner, or that you
are guilty for sin, there might be some fitness in seeking for conviction of the
truth on these points.
Do not wait for more or for different feelings. Sinners are often saying, "I
must feel differently before I can come to Christ," or, "I must have more
feeling." As if this were the great thing which God requires of them. In this
they are altogether mistaken.
Do not wait to be better prepared. While you wait you are growing worse and worse,
and are fast rendering your salvation impossible.
Don't wait for God to change your heart. Why should you wait for Him to do what He
has commanded you to do, and waits for you to do in obedience to His command?
Don't try to recommend yourself to God by prayers or tears or by anything else whatsoever.
Do you suppose your prayers lay God under any obligation to forgive you? Suppose
you owed a man five hundred talents, and should go a hundred times a week and beg
him to remit to you this debt; and then should enter your prayers in account against
your creditor, as so much claim against him. Suppose you should pursue this course
till you had canceled the debt, as you suppose -- could you hope to prove anything
by this course except that you were mad? And yet sinners seem to suppose that their
many prayers and tears lay the Lord under real obligation to them to forgive them.
Never rely on anything else whatever than Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. It is
preposterous for you to hope, as many do, to make some propitiation by your own sufferings.
In my early experience I thought I could not expect to be converted at once, but
must be bowed down a long time. I said to myself, "God will not pity me till
I feel worse than I do now. I can't expect Him to forgive me till I feel a greater
agony of soul than this." Not even if I could have gone on augmenting my sufferings
till they equalled the miseries of hell, it could not have changed God. The fact
is, God does not ask of you that you should suffer. Your sufferings cannot in the
nature of the case avail for atonement. Why, therefore, should you attempt to thrust
aside the system of God's providing, and thrust in one of your own?
There is another view of the case. The thing God demands of you is that you should
bow your stubborn will to Him. Just as a child in the attitude of disobedience, and
required to submit, might fall to weeping and groaning, and to every expression of
agony, and might even torture himself, in hope of moving the pity of his father,
but all the time refuses to submit to parental authority. He would be very glad to
put his own sufferings in the place of the submission demanded. This is what the
sinner is doing. He would fain put his own sufferings in the place of submission
to God, and move the pity of the Lord so much that He would recede from the hard
condition of repentance and submission.
If you would be saved you must not listen at all to those who pity you, and who impliedly
take your part against God, and try to make you think you are not so bad as you are.
I once knew a woman who, after a long season of distressing conviction, fell into
great despair; her health sank, and she seemed about to die. All this time she found
no relief, but seemed only to wax worse and worse, sinking down in stern and awful
despair. Her friends, instead of dealing plainly and faithfully with her, and probing
her guilty heart to the bottom, had taken the course of pitying her, and almost complained
of the Lord that He would not have compassion on the poor agonized, dying woman.
At length, as she seemed in the last stages of life -- so weak as to be scarcely
able to speak in a low voice, there happened in a minister who better understood
how to deal with convicted sinners. The woman's friends cautioned him to deal very
carefully with her, as she was in a dreadful state and greatly to be pitied; but
he judged it best to deal with her very faithfully. As he approached her bed-side,
she raised her faint voice and begged for a little water. "Unless you repent,
you will soon be," said he, "where there is not a drop of water to cool
your tongue." "O," she cried, "must I go down to hell?"
"Yes, you must, and you will, soon, unless you repent and submit to God. Why
don't you repent and submit immediately?" "O," she replied, "it
is an awful thing to go to hell!" "Yes, and for that very reason Christ
has provided an atonement through Jesus Christ, but you won't accept it. He brings
the cup of salvation to your lips, and you thrust it away. Why will you do this?
Why will you persist in being an enemy of God and scorn His offered salvation, when
you might become His friend and have salvation if you would?"
This was the strain of their conversation, and its result was, that the woman saw
her guilt and her duty, and turning to the Lord, found pardon and peace.
Therefore I say, if your conscience convicts you of sin, don't let anybody take your
part against God. Your wound needs not a plaster, but a probe. Don't fear the probe;
it is the only thing that can save you. Don't seek to hide your guilt, or veil your
eyes from seeing it, nor be afraid to know the worst, for you must know the very
worst, and the sooner you know it the better. I warn you, don't look after some physician
to give you an opiate, for you don't need it. Shun, as you would death itself, all
those who would speak to you smooth things and prophesy deceits. They would surely
ruin your soul.
Again, do not suppose that if you become a Christian, it will interfere with any
of the necessary or appropriate duties of life, or with anything whatever to which
you ought to attend. No; religion never interferes with any real duty. So far is
this from being the case, that in fact a proper attention to your various duties
is indispensable to your being religious. You cannot serve God without.
Moreover, if you would be saved you must not give heed to anything that would hinder
you. It is infinitely important that your soul should be saved. No consideration
thrown in your way should be allowed to have the weight of a straw or a feather.
Jesus Christ has illustrated and enforced this by several parables, especially in
the one which compares the kingdom of heaven to "a merchant-man seeking goodly
pearls, who when he had found one pearl of great price went and sold all that he
had and bought it." In another parable, the kingdom of heaven is said to be
"like treasure hid in a field, which, when a man hath found, he hideth, and
for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field." Thus
forcibly are men taught that they must be ready to make any sacrifice whatever which
may be requisite in order to gain the kingdom of heaven.
Again, you must not seek religion selfishly. You must not make your own salvation
or happiness the supreme end. Beware, for if you make this your supreme end you will
get a false hope, and will probably glide along down the pathway of the hypocrite
into the deepest hell.
II. What sinners must do to be saved.
- 1. You must understand what you have to do. It
is of the utmost importance that you should see this clearly. You need to know that
you must return to God, and to understand what this means. The difficulty between
yourself and God is that you have stolen yourself and run away from His service.
You belong of right to God. He created you for Himself, and hence had a perfectly
righteous claim to the homage of your heart, and the service of your life. But you,
instead of living to meet His claims, have run away -- have deserted from God's service,
and have lived to please yourself. Now your duty is to return and restore yourself
- 2. You must return and confess your sins to God.
You must confess that you have been all wrong, and that God has been all right. Go
before the Lord and lay open the depth of your guilt. Tell Him you deserve just as
much damnation as He has threatened.
- These confessions are naturally indispensable
to your being forgiven. In accordance with this the Lord says, "If then their
uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their
iniquity, then will I remember my covenant." Then God can forgive. But so long
as you controvert this point, and will not concede that God is right, or admit that
you are wrong, He can never forgive you.
You must moreover confess to man if you have injured any one. And is it not a fact
that you have injured some, and perhaps many of your fellow-men? Have you not slandered
your neighbour and said things which you have no right to say? Have you not in some
instances, which you could call to mind if you would, lied to them, or about them,
or covered up or perverted the truth; and have you not been willing that others should
have false impressions of you or of your conduct? If so, you must renounce all such
iniquity, for "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; while he that confesseth
and forsaketh them shall find mercy." And, furthermore, you must not only confess
your sins to God and to the men you have injured, but you must also make restitution.
You have not taken the position of a penitent before God and man until you have done
God cannot treat you as a penitent until you have done it.
I do not mean by this that God cannot forgive you until you have carried into effect
your purpose of restitution by finishing the outward act, for sometimes it may demand
time, and may in some cases be itself impossible to you. But the purpose must be
sincere and thorough before you can be forgiven of God.
- 3. You must renounce yourself. In this is implied,
- (1.) That you renounce your own righteousness,
forever discarding the very idea of having any righteousness in yourself.
- (2.) That you forever relinquish the idea of having
done any good which ought to commend you to God, or be ever thought of as a ground
of your justification.
- (3.) That you renounce your own will, and be ever
ready to say not in word only, but in heart, "Thy will be done, on earth as
it is in heaven." You must consent most heartily that God's will shall be your
- (4.) That you renounce your own way and let God
have His own way in everything. Never suffer yourself to fret and be rasped by anything
whatever; for since God's agency extends to all events, you ought to recognize His
hand in all things; and of course to fret at anything whatever is to fret against
God who has at least permitted that thing to occur as it does. So long, therefore,
as you suffer yourself to fret, you are not right with God. You must become before
God as a little child, subdued and trustful at His feet. Let the weather be fair
or foul, consent that God should have His way. Let all things go well with you, or
as men call it, ill; yet let God do His pleasure, and let it be your part to submit
in perfect resignation. Until you take this ground you cannot be saved.
- 4. You must come to Christ. You must accept of
Christ really and fully as your Saviour. Renouncing all thought of depending on anything
you have done or can do, you must accept of Christ as your atoning sacrifice, and
as your ever-living Mediator before God. Without the least qualification or reserve
you must place yourself under His wing as your Saviour.
- 5. You must seek supremely to please Christ, and
not yourself. It is naturally impossible that you should be saved until you come
into this attitude of mind -- until you are so well pleased with Christ in all respects
as to find your pleasure in doing His. It is in the nature of things impossible that
you should be happy in any other state of mind, or unhappy in this. For, His pleasure
is infinitely good and right. When, therefore, His good pleasure becomes your good
pleasure, and your will harmonizes entirely with His, then you will be happy for
the same reason that He is happy, and you cannot fail of being happy any more than
Jesus Christ can. And this becoming supremely happy in God's will is essentially
the idea of salvation. In this state of mind you are saved. Out of it you cannot
- It has often struck my mind with great force,
that many professors of religion are deplorably and utterly mistaken on this point.
Their real feeling is that Christ's service is an iron collar -- an insufferably
hard yoke. Hence, they labour exceedingly to throw off some of this burden. They
try to make it out that Christ does not require much, if any, self-denial -- much,
if any, deviation from the course of worldliness and sin. O, if they could only get
the standard of Christian duty quite down to a level with the fashions and customs
of this world! How much easier then to live a Christian life and wear Christ's yoke!
But taking Christ's yoke as it really is, it becomes in their view an iron collar.
Doing the will of Christ, instead of their own, is a hard business. Now if doing
Christ's will is religion, (and who can doubt it?) then they only need enough of
it; and in their state of mind they will be supremely wretched. Let me ask those
who groan under the idea that they must be religious -- who deem it awful hard --
but they must -- how much religion of this kind would it take to make hell? Surely
not much! When it gives you no joy to do God's pleasure, and yet you are shut up
to the doing of His pleasure as the only way to be saved, and are thereby perpetually
dragooned into the doing of what you hate, as the only means of escaping hell, would
not this be itself a hell? Can you not see that in this state of mind you are not
saved and cannot be?
To be saved you must come into a state of mind in which you will ask no higher joy
than to do God's pleasure. This alone will be forever enough to fill your cup to
You must have all confidence in Christ, or you cannot so saved. You must absolutely
believe in Him -- believe all His words of promise. They were given you to be believed,
and unless you believe them they can do you no good at all. So far from helping you
without you exercise faith in them, they will only aggravate your guilt for unbelief.
God would be believed when He speaks in love to lost sinners. He gave them these
"exceeding great and precious promises, that they, by faith in them, might escape
the corruption that is in the world through lust." But thousands of professors
of religion know not how to use these promises, and as to them or any profitable
use they make, the promises might as well have been written on the sands of the sea.
Sinners, too, will go down to hell in unbroken masses, unless they believe and take
hold of God by faith in His promise. O, His awful wrath is out against them! And
He says, "I would go through them, I would burn them up together; or let him
take hold of My strength, that he may make peace with Me, and he shall make peace
with Me." Yes, let him stir up himself and take hold of My arm, strong to save,
and then he may make peace with Me. Do you ask how take hold? By faith. Yes, by faith;
believe His words and take hold; take hold of His strong arm and swing right out
over hell, and don't be afraid any more than if there were no hell.
But you say -- I do believe, and yet I am not saved. No, you don't believe. A woman
said to me, "I believe, I know I do, and yet here I am in my sins." No,
said I, you don't. Have you as much confidence in God as you would have in me if
I had promised you a dollar? Do you ever pray to God? And, if so, do you come with
any such confidence as you would have if you came to me to ask for a promised dollar?
Oh, until you have as much faith in God as this, aye and more -- until you have more
confidence in God than you would have in ten thousand men, your faith does not honour
God, and you cannot hope to please Him. You must say -- Let God be true though every
man be a liar."
But you say, "O, I am a sinner, and how can I believe? I know you are a sinner,
and so are all men to whom God has given these promises. "O, but I am a great
sinner!" Well, "It is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation,
that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom," Paul says,
"I am the chief." So you need not despair.
- 7. You must forsake all that you have, or you
cannot be Christ's disciple. There must be absolute and total self-denial.
- By this I do not mean that you are never to eat
again, or never again to clothe yourself, or never more enjoy the society of your
friends -- no, not this; but that you should cease entirely from using any of these
enjoyments selfishly. You must no longer think to own yourself: your time, your possessions,
or anything you have ever called your own. All these things you must hold as God's,
not yours. In this sense you are to forsake all that you have, namely, in the sense
of laying all upon God's altar to be devoted supremely and only to His service. When
you come back to God for pardon and salvation, come with all you have to lay all
at his feet. Come with your body, to offer it as a living sacrifice upon His altar.
Come with your soul and all its powers, and yield them in willing consecration to
your God and Saviour. Come, bring them all along -- everything, body, soul, intellect,
imagination, acquirements -- all, without reserve. Do you say -- Must I bring them
all? Yes, all -- absolutely ALL; do not keep back anything -- don't sin against your
own soul, like Ananias and Sapphira, by keeping back a part, but renounce your own
claim to everything, and recognize God's right to all. Say -- Lord, these things
are not mine. I had stolen them, but they were never mine. They were always Thine;
I'll have them no longer. Lord, these things are all Thine, henceforth and forever.
Now, what wilt Thou have me to do? I have no business of my own to do -- I am wholly
at Thy disposal. Lord, what work hast Thou for me to do?
In this spirit you must renounce the world, the flesh, and Satan. Your fellowship
is henceforth to be with Christ, and not with those objects. You are to live for
Christ, and not for the world, the flesh, or the devil.
- 8. You must believe the record God hath given
of His Son. He that believes not does not receive the record -- does not set to his
seal that God is true. "This is the record, that God has given us eternal life,
and this life is in His Son." The condition of your having it is that you believe
the record, and of course that you act accordingly. Suppose here is a poor man living
at your next door, and the mail brings him a letter stating that a rich man has died
in England, leaving him 100,000 pounds sterling, and the cashier of a neighbouring
bank writes him that he has received the amount on deposit for him, and holds it
subject to his order. Well, the poor man says, I can't believe the record. I can't
believe there ever was any such rich man; I can't believe there is 100,000 pounds
for me. So he must live and die as poor as Lazarus, because he won't believe the
- Now, mark; this is just the case with the unbelieving
sinner. God has given you eternal life, and it waits your order; but you don't get
it because you will not believe, and therefore will not make out the order, and present
in due form the application.
Ah, but you say, I must have some feeling before I can believe -- how can I believe
till I have the feeling? So the poor man might say -- How can I believe that the
100,000 pounds is mine; I have not got a farthing of it now; I am as poor as ever.
Yes, you are poor because you will not believe. If you would believe, you might go
and buy out every store in this country. Still you cry, I am as poor as ever. I can't
believe it; see my poor worn clothes -- I was never more ragged in my life; I have
not a particle of the feeling and the comforts of a rich man. So the sinner can't
believe till he gets the inward experience! He must wait to have some of the feeling
of a saved sinner before he can believe the record and take hold of the salvation!
Preposterous enough! So the poor man must wait to get his new clothes and fine house
before he can believe his documents and draw for his money. Of course he dooms himself
to everlasting poverty, although mountains of gold were all his own.
Now, sinner, you must understand this. Why should you be lost when eternal life is
bought and offered you by the last will and testament of the Lord Jesus Christ? Will
you not believe the record and draw for the amount at once! Do for mercy's sake understand
this and not lose heaven by your own folly!
I must conclude by saying, that if you would be saved you must accept a prepared
salvation, one already prepared and full, and present. You must be willing to give
up all your sins, and be saved from them, all, now and henceforth! Until you consent
to this, you cannot be saved at all. Many would be willing to be saved in heaven,
if they might hold on to some sins while on earth -- or rather they think they would
eke heaven on such terms. But the fact is, they would as much dislike a pure heart
and a holy life in heaven as they do on earth, and they deceive themselves utterly
in supposing that they are ready or even willing to go to such a heaven as God has
prepared for His people. No, there can be no heaven except for those who accept a
salvation from all sin in this world. They must take the Gospel as a system which
holds no compromise with sin -- which contemplates full deliverance from sin even
now, and makes provision accordingly. Any other gospel is not the true one, and to
accept of Christ's Gospel in any other sense is not to accept it all. Its first and
its last condition is swarn and eternal renunciation of all sin.
- 1. Paul did not give the same answer to this question
which a consistent Universalist would give. The latter would say, You are to be saved
by being first punished according to your sin. All men must expect to be punished
all that their sins deserve. But Paul did not answer thus. Miserable comforter had
he been if he had answered after this sort: "You must all be punished according
to the letter of the law you have broken." This could scarcely have been called
- Nor again did Paul give the Universalist's answer
and say, "Do not concern yourself about this matter of being saved, all men
are sure enough of being saved without any particular anxiety about it." Not
so Paul; no -- he understood and did not forbear to express the necessity of believing
on the Lord Jesus Christ as the condition of being saved.
- 2. Take care that you do not sin willfully after
saying you understood the truth concerning the way of salvation. Your danger of this
is great precisely in proportion as you see your duty clearly. The most terrible
damnation must fall on the head of those who "knew their duty, but who did it
not." When, therefore, you are told plainly and truly what your duty is, be
on your guard lest you let salvation slip out of your hands. It may never come so
near your reach again.
- 3. Do not wait, even to go home, before you obey
God. Make up your mind now, at once, to close in with the offers of salvation. Why
not? Are they not most reasonable?
- 4. Let your mind act upon this great proposal
and embrace it just as you would any other important proposition. God lays the proposition
before you; you hear it explained, and you understand it; now the next and only remaining
step is -- to embrace it with all your heart. Just as any other great question (we
may suppose it a question of life or death) might come before a community -- the
case be fully stated, the conditions explained, and then the issue is made. Will
you subscribe? Will you engage to meet these conditions? Do you heartily embrace
the proposition? Now all this would be intelligible.
- Just so, now, in the case of the sinner. You understand
the proposition. You know the conditions of salvation. You understand the contract
into which you are to enter with your God and Saviour. You covenant to give your
all to God -- to lay yourself upon His altar to be used up there just as He pleases
to use you. And now the only remaining question is, Will you consent to this at once?
Will you go for full and everlasting consecration with all your heart?
- 5. The jailer made no excuse. When he knew his
duty, in a moment he yielded. Paul told him what to do, and he did it. Possibly he
might have heard something about Paul's preaching before this night; but probably
not much. But now he fears for his life. How often have I been struck with this case!
There was a dark-minded heathen. He had heard, we must suppose, a great deal of slang
about these apostles; but notwithstanding all, he came to them for truth; hearing,
he is convinced, and being convinced, he yields at once. Paul uttered a single sentence
-- he received it, embraced it, and it is done.
- Now you, sinner, know and admit all this truth,
and yet infinitely strange as it is, you will not, in a moment, believe and embrace
it with all your heart. O, will not Sodom and Gomorrah rise up against you in the
judgment and condemn you! That heathen jailer -- how could you bear to see him on
that dread day, and stand rebuked by his example there!
- 6. It is remarkable that Paul said nothing about
the jailer's needing any help in order to believe and repent. He did not even mention
the work of the Spirit, or allude to the jailer's need of it. But it should be noticed
that Paul gave the jailer just those directions which would most effectually secure
the Spirit's aid and promote his action.
- 7. The jailer seems to have made no delay at all,
waiting for no future or better time; but as soon as the conditions are before him
he yields and embraces; no sooner is the proposition made than he seizes upon it
in a moment.
- I was once preaching in a village in New York,
and there sat before me a lawyer who had been greatly offended with the Gospel. But
that day I noticed he sat with fixed eye and open mouth, leaned forward as if he
would seize each word as it came. I was explaining and simplifying the Gospel, and
when I came to state just how the Gospel is offered to men, he said to me afterwards:
I snatched at it -- I put out my hand, (suiting the action to the thought), and seized
it -- and it became mine.
So in my own case while in the woods praying, after I had burst away from the fear
of man, and began to give scope to my feelings, this passage fell upon me, "Ye
shall seek for Me and find Me when ye shall search for Me with all your heart."
For the first time in the world I found that I believed a passage in the Bible. I
had supposed that I believed before, but surely never before as I now did. Now, said
I to myself, "This is the word of the everlasting God. My God, I take Thee at
Thy word. Thou sayest I shall find Thee when I search for Thee with all my heart,
and now, Lord, I do search for Thee, I know, with all my heart." And true enough,
I did find the Lord. Never in all my life was I more certain of anything than I was
then that I had found the Lord.
This is the very idea of His promises -- they were made to be believed -- to be laid
hold of as God's own words, and acted upon as if they actually meant just what they
say. When God says, "Look unto Me and be ye saved," He would have us look
unto Him as if He really had salvation in His hands to give, and withal a heart to
give it. The true spirit of faith is well expressed by the Psalmist, "When Thou
saidst, 'Seek ye my face,' my heart replied -- 'Thy face, Lord, will I seek.'"
This is the way -- let your heart at once respond to the blessed words of invitation
and of promise.
Ah, but you say, I am not a Christian. And you never will be till you believe on
the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour. If you never become a Christian, the reason
will be because you do not and will not believe the Gospel and embrace it with all
The promises were made to be believed, and belong to any one who will believe them.
They reach forth their precious words to all, and whoever will, may take them as
his own. Now will you believe that the Father has given you eternal life? This is
the fact declared; will you believe it?
You have now been told what you must not do and what you must do to be saved; are
you pre pared to act? Do you say, I am ready to renounce my own pleasure, and henceforth
seek no other pleasure than to please God? Can you forego everything else for the
sake of this?
Sinner, do you want to please God, or would you choose to please yourself? Are you
willing now to please God and to begin by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ unto
salvation? Will you be as simple-hearted as the jailer was? And act as promptly?
I demand your decision now. I dare not have you go home first, lest you get to talking
about something else, and let slip these words of life and this precious opportunity
to grasp an offered salvation. And whom do you suppose I am now addressing? Every
impenitent sinner in this house -- every one. I call heaven and earth to record that
I have set the Gospel before you today. Will you take it? Is it not reasonable for
you to decide at once? Are you ready, now, to say before high heaven and before this
congregation, "I will renounce myself and yield to God! I am the Lord's, and
let all men and angels bear me witness -- I am forevermore the Lord's." Sinner,
the infinite God waits for your consent!
SERMON XI. Back to Top
THE SINNER'S NATURAL POWER AND MORAL WEAKNESS.
"Of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage." -- 2
Peter ii. 19.
I PROPOSE in my present discourse to discuss the
moral state of the sinner.
I. All men are naturally free.
- The first important fact to be noted is, that
all men are naturally free, and none the less so for being sinners. They naturally
have freedom of will.
By natural freedom I do not mean that they have a right to do as they please; for
this can by no means be true. Nor do I mean that they are free agents merely in the
sense of being able to do as they will to do. In fact, men sometimes can and sometimes
can not execute their purposes of will; but be this as it may, moral liberty does
not consist in the power to accomplish one's purposes. You are aware that some old
philosophers defined liberty of will to be the power to do what you will to do. This,
for many reasons, can not be the true idea of freedom of the will. For look at the
department of doing which is embraced in muscular action. The simple fact is, that
some of our muscles are not under the control of the will at all, while others are
under its control by a law of the sternest necessity. In regard to this latter class,
all the freedom there is pertains to the will -- none of it to the action of the
muscles controlled by the will. It is then a sheer mistake to deny the location of
freedom where it is, and to locate it where it is not. If there be any such thing
as necessity in the universe, it is found in the absolute control held by the will
over those physical muscles which are placed under its control. The obedience of
the muscles is absolute -- not free or voluntary in any sense whatever. Hence the
absurdity of locating human freedom there.
This freedom is in the will itself, and consists in its power of free choice. To
do, or not to do -- this is its option. It has by its own nature the function of
determining its own volitions. The soul wills to do or not to do, and thus is a moral
sovereign over its own activities. In this fact lies the foundation for moral agency.
A being so constituted that he can will to do or not to do, and has moreover knowledge
and appreciation of his moral obligations, is a moral agent. None other can be.
It deserves special notice here that every man knows that he has a conscience which
tells him how he ought to act, as well as a moral power in the exercise of which
he can either heed or repel its monitions.
That a man is free in the sense of determining his own activities is proved by each
man's own consciousness. This proof requires no chain of reasoning. It is strong
as need be, without any reasoning at all. A man is just as much aware and as well
aware of originating his own acts as he is of acting at all. Does he really act himself?
Yes. And does he know that he acts himself? Yes. How does he know these things? By
consciousness. But he has the same evidence of being free -- for this is equally
proved by his own consciousness.
Still further: man can distinguish between those acts in which he is free, and those
in which he is acted upon by influences independent of his own choice. He knows that
in some things he is a recipient of influences and of actions exerted upon himself,
while in other things he is not a recipient in the same sense, but a voluntary actor.
The fact of this discrimination proves the possession of free agency.
The difference to which I now refer is one of everyday consciousness. Sometimes a
man can not tell whence his thoughts come. Impressions are made upon his mind the
origin of which he can not trace. They may be from above -- they may be from beneath:
he knows but little of their source, and little about them, save that they are not
his own free volitions. Of his own acts of will there can be no such uncertainty.
He knows their origin. He knows that they are the product of an original power in
himself, for the exercise of which he is compelled to hold himself primarily responsible.
Not only has he this direct consciousness, but he has, as already suggested, the
testimony of his own conscience. This faculty, by its very nature, takes cognizance
of his moral acts, requiring certain acts of will and forbidding others. This faculty
is an essential condition of free moral agency. Possessing it, and also man's other
mental powers, he must be free and under moral obligation.
It is inconceivable that man should be under moral law and government, without the
power of free moral action. The logical condition of the existence of a conscience
in man is that he should be free.
That man is free is evident from the fact that he is conscious of praise or blameworthiness.
He could not reasonably blame himself unless it were a first truth that he is free.
By a first truth, I mean one that is known to all by a necessity of their own nature.
There are such truths -- those which none can help knowing, however much they may
desire to ignore them. Now unless it were a first truth, necessarily known to all,
that man is free, he could not praise or blame himself.
As conscience implies moral agency, so, where there is a conscience, it is impossible
for men really to deny moral responsibility. Men can not but blame themselves for
wrong doing. Conscious of the forewarning of conscience against the wrong act, how
can they evade the conviction that the act was wrong?
Again, the Bible always treats men as free agents, commanding them to do or not to
do as if of course they had all the power requisite to obey such commands. A young
minister once said to me, "I preach that men ought to repent, but never that
they can." "Why not preach also that they can?" said I. He replied,
"The Bible does not affirm that they can." To this I replied that it would
be most consummate trifling for a human legislature, having required certain acts,
to proceed to affirm that its subjects have the power to obey. The very requirement
is the strongest possible affirmation, that in the belief of the enacting power,
the subjects are able to do the things required. If the law-makers did not believe
this, how in reason could they require it? The very first assumption to be made concerning
good rulers is, that they have common sense and common honesty. To deny, virtually,
that God has these qualities, is blasphemous.
Freedom of will lies among the earliest and most resistless convictions. Probably
no one living can remember his first idea of oughtness -- his first convictions of
right and wrong. It is also among our most irresistible convictions. We assume the
freedom of our own will from the very first. The little child affirms it in its first
infantile efforts to accomplish its purposes. See him reach forth to get his food
or his playthings. The little machinery of a freely acting agent begins to play long
ere he can understand it. He begins to act on his own responsibility, long before
he can estimate what or how great this responsibility is. The fact of personal responsibility
is fastened on us so that we might as well escape from ourselves as from this conviction.
II. Men are in moral bondage.
- While it is true, past a rational denial, that
men have this attribute of moral liberty, it is equally true that they are morally
enslaved -- in moral bondage. The liberty they have by created constitution; the
bondage comes by voluntary perversion and abuse of their powers.
The Bible represents men as being in bondage. As having the power to resist temptation
to sin, but yet as voluntarily yielding to those temptations. Just as our dough-faced
politicians might, but do not and will not, resist the demands of the slave power.
Just such is the bondage of sinners under temptation. The Bible represents Satan
as ruling the hearts of men at his will, just as the men who wield the slave power
of the South rule the dough faces of the North at their will, dictating the choice
of our Presidents and the entire legislation of the Federal Government. So Satan
ruled Eve in the garden; so he now "works in the children of disobedience."
What the Bible thus represents, experience proves to be true. Wicked men know that
they are in bondage to Satan. What do you think puts it into the heart of young men
to plot iniquity and drink it in like water? Is it not the devil? How many young
men do we meet with who, when tempted, seem to have no moral stamina to resist, but
are swept away by the first gust of temptation.
Men are in bondage to their appetites. Appetite excited leads them away as it led
Eve and Adam. What can be the reason that some young men find it so hard to give
up the use of tobacco? They know the habit is filthy and disgusting; they know it
must injure their health; but appetite craves, and the devil helps on its demands;
the poor victim makes a feeble effort to deliver himself, but the devil turns the
screw again and holds him the tighter, and then drags him back to a harder bondage.
So when a man is in bondage to alcohol, and so with every form of sensual indulgence.
Satan helps on the influence of sensuality, and does not care much what the particular
form of it may be, provided its power be strong enough to ruin, the soul. It all
plays into his hand and promotes his main purpose.
So men are in bondage to the love of money; to the fashions of the world: to the
opinions of mankind. By these they are enslaved and led on in the face of the demands
of duty. Every man is really enslaved who is in fact led counter to his convictions
of duty. He is free only when he acts in accordance with those convictions. This
is the true idea of liberty. Only when reason and conscience control the will is
a man free -- for God made men intelligent and moral beings to act normally, under
the influence of their own enlightened conscience and reason. This is such freedom
as God exercises and enjoys; none can be higher or nobler. But when a moral agent
is in bondage to his low appetites and passions, and is led by them to disregard
the dictates of his conscience and of his reason, he is simply a galley slave, and
to a very hard and cruel master.
God made men to be free, giving them just such mental powers as they need in order
to control their own activities as a rational being should wish to. Their bondage,
then, is altogether voluntary. They choose to resist the control of reason, and submit
to the control of appetite and passion.
Every impenitent man is conscious of being really in bondage to temptation. What
man, not saved from sin through grace, does not know that he is an enigma to himself?
I should have little respect for any man who should say he was never ashamed of himself,
and never found himself doing things he could not well account for. Especially I
should be ashamed and afraid, too, if I were to hear a student say he had never been
impressed with a sense of his moral weakness. Such ignorance would only show his
utter lack of reflection, and his consequent failure to notice the most obvious moral
phenomena of his inner life. What! does he not know that his weakest desires carry
his will, the strongest convictions of his reason and conscience to the contrary
This is a most guilty state, because so altogether voluntary -- so needless, and
so opposed to the convictions of his reason and of his understanding, and withal
so opposed to his convictions of God's righteous demands. To go counter to such convictions,
he must be supremely guilty.
Of course such conduct must be most suicidal. The sinner acts in most decided opposition
to his own best interests, so that if he has the power to ruin himself this course
must certainly do it. The course he pursues is of all others best adapted to destroy
both body and soul; how, then, can it be anything but suicidal? He practically denies
all moral obligation. And yet he knows the fact of his moral obligation, and denies
it in the face of his clearest convictions. How can this be otherwise than suicidal?
I have many times asked sinners how they could account for their own conduct. The
honest ones answer, "I cannot at all; I am an enigma to myself." The real
explanation is, that while by created constitution they are free moral agents, yet,
by the infatuation of sin, they have sold themselves into moral bondage, and are
really slaves to Satan and their own lusts.
This is a state of deep moral degradation. Intrinsically it is most disgraceful.
Everybody feels this in regard to certain forms of sin and classes of sinners. We
all feel that drunkenness is beastly. A drunkard we regard as a long way toward beasthood.
See him reeling about, mentally besotted and reeking in his own filth! Is not he
almost a beast? Nay, rather must we not ask pardon of all beasts for this comparison,
for not one is so mean and so vile -- not one excites in our bosom such a sense of
voluntary degradation. Compared with the self-besotted drunkard, any one of them
is a noble creature.
So we all say, looking only from our human standpoint. But there is another and a
better standpoint. How do angels look upon this self-made drunkard? They see in him
one made only a little lower than themselves, and one who might have aspired to companionship
with them; yet he chose rather to sink himself down to a level with swine! O how
their souls must recoil from the sight of such self-made degradation! To see the
noble quality of intellect discarded; and yet nobler moral qualities disowned, and
trodden under foot as if they were only an incumbrance -- this is too much for angels
to bear. How they must feel!
Nor is the drunkard alone in the contempt which his sensual degradation entails.
See the tobacco-smoker. The correct taste of community demands that by conventional
laws he be excluded from parlors, steamboat-cabins, first-class rail-cars, churches,
and indeed all really decent places. Yet, for the sake of this low indulgence, the
smoker is willing to descend into places not decent. See him steal out of his place
among respectable people in the rail-car, and herd with rowdies in the smoking-car,
for the sake of his filthy indulgence. If he were only obliged to ride all day in
the society to which he sinks himself by this indulgence, it might admonish him of
the cost of his sensuality! It might help to open his eyes!
I have taken these forms of sensual indulgence as illustrations of the real degradation
of sin. In these cases the good sense of mankind has been evinced by the grade of
debasement to which they consign these votaries of low self-indulgence. If we only
saw things in their right light we should take the same view of the moralist. I recollect
that in talking with a great moralist he said, "How can I act from regard to
God or to the right? How can I go to meeting from the high motive of pleasing God?
I can go from a desire to promote my own selfish ends, but how can I go for the sake
of pleasing God?"
Yes, that is precisely his difficulty and his guilt. He does not care how little
he pleases God! That is the least of his concern. The very lowest class of motives
sways his will and his life. He stands entirely afar from the reach of the highest
and noblest. In this consists his self-made degradation and his exceeding great guilt.
So of the miser when he gets beyond all motives but the love of hoarding; when his
practical question is -- not, How shall I honor my race, or bless my generation,
or glorify my Maker; but, How can I make a few coppers? Even when urged to pray,
he would ask, "What profit shall I have if I do pray unto Him?" When you
find a man thus incapable of being moved by noble motives, what a wretch he is! How
So I might bring before you the ambitious scholar, who is too low in his aims to
be influenced by the exalted motive of doing good, and who feels only that which
touches his reputation. Is not this exceedingly low and mean? What would you think
of the preacher who should lose all regard for the welfare of souls, and think only
of fishing for his reputation? What would you say of him? You would declare that
he was too mean and too wicked to live, and fit only for hell! What would you think
of one who might shine like Lucifer among the morning stars of intellect and genius,
but who should debase himself to the low and miserable vocation of snuffing round
after applause, and fishing for compliments to his talents? Would you not say that
such self-seeking is unutterably contemptible? With all heaven from above beckoning
them on to lofty purposes and efforts, there they are, working their "muck-rake,"
and nosing after some little advantage to their small selves!
See that ambitious man who so longs to please everybody that he conforms his own
to everybody's opinions, and never has one that is really his own! Must not he be
low enough to satisfy any of those whose ambition seems strangely reversed, so that
they only aspire to dive and sink -- never to soar; whose impulses all tend downwards
and never up?
One would suppose they would have degradation enough to satisfy any ordinary ambition.
All this comes of bondage to base selfishness. Alas, that there should be so much
of this in our world that public sentiment rarely estimates it anywise according
to its real nature!
Our subject reveals the case of those who are convicted of the right, but cannot
be persuaded to do it.
For example, on the subject of temperance, he is convicted as to duty -- knows he
ought to reform absolutely, but yet he will not change. Every temperance lecture
carries conviction, but the next temptation sweeps it by the board, and he returns
like the dog to his vomit. But mark this -- every successive process of temperance
-- conviction and temptation's triumph, leaves him weaker than before, and very soon
you will find him utterly prostrate. Miserable man! How certainly he will die in
No matter what the form of the temptation may be, he who, when convinced of his duty,
yet takes no corresponding action, is on the high-road to perdition. Inevitably this
bondage grows stronger and stronger with every fresh trial of its strength. Every
time you are convinced of duty and yet resist that conviction, and refuse to act
in accordance with it, you become more and more helpless; you commit yourself more
and more to the control of your iron-hearted master. Every fresh case renders you
only the more fully a helpless slave.
There may be some young men here who have already made themselves a moral wreck.
There may be lads not yet sixteen who have already put their conscience effectually
beneath their feet. Already you have learned, perhaps, to go against all your convictions
of duty. How horrible! Every day your hands are growing stronger. With each day's
resistance, your soul is more deeply and hopelessly lost. Poor miserable, dying sinner!
"He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed,
and that without remedy!" Suddenly, you dash upon the breakers and are gone!
Your friends move solemnly along the shore, and look out upon those rocks of damnation
on which your soul is wrecked, and weeping as they go, they mournfully say, "There
is the wreck of one who knew his duty, but did it not. Thousands of times the appeals
of conviction came home to his heart, but he learned to resist them -- he made it
his business to resist, and, alas! he was only too successful!"
How insane the delusion, that the sinner's case while yet in his sins, is growing
better. As well might the drunkard fancy he is growing better because every temperance
lecture convicts him of his sin and shame, while yet every next day's temptation
leaves him drunk as ever! Growing better! There can be no delusion so false and so
fatal as this!
You see the force of this delusion in clearer light when you notice how slight are
the considerations that sway the soul against all the vast motives of God's character
and kingdom. Must not that be a strong and fearful delusion which can make considerations
so slight outweigh motives so vast and momentous?
The guilt of this state is to be estimated by the insignificance of the motives which
control the mind. What would you think of the youth who could murder his father for
a sixpence? What! you would exclaim, for so mean a pittance be bribed to murder his
father! You would account his guilt the greater by how much less the temptation.
Our subject shows the need of the Holy Spirit to impress the truth on the hearts
You may also see how certainly sinners will be lost if they grieve the Spirit of
God away. Your earthly friends might be discouraged, and yet you might be saved;
but if the Spirit of God becomes discouraged and leaves you, your doom is sealed
forever. "Woe unto them when I depart from them!" This departure of God
from the sinner gives the signal for tolling the knell of his lost soul. Then the
mighty, angel begins to toll, TOLL, TOLL! the great bell of eternity: one more soul
going to its eternal doom!
SERMON XII. Back to Top
ON THE ATONEMENT.
"How that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." -- 1 Cor.
"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made
the righteousness of God in him." -- 2 Cor. v. 21.
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ
died for us." -- Rom. v. 8.
"The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake: he will magnify the law
and make it honorable." -- Isa. xlii. 21.
"Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to
declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance
of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just
and the justifier of him which believeth in JESUS." -- Rom. iii. 25, 26.
IN this last passage, the apostle states, with
unusual fullness, the theological, and, I might even say, the philosophical design
of Christ's mission to our world -- that is, to set forth before created beings,
God's righteousness in forgiving sins. It is here said that Christ is set forth as
a propitiation that God may be just in forgiving sin, assuming that God could not
have been just to the universe, unless Christ had been first set forth as a sacrifice.
When we seriously consider the irresistible convictions of our own minds in regard
to our relations to God and His government, we cannot but see that we are sinners,
and are lost beyond hope on the score of law and justice. The fact that we are grievous
sinners against God is an ultimate fact of human consciousness, testified to by our
irresistible convictions, and no more to be denied than the fact that there is such
a thing as wrong.
Now, if God be holy and good, it must be that He disapproves wrong-doing, and will
punish it. The penalty of His law is pronounced against it. Under this penalty, we
stand condemned, and have no relief save through some adequate atonement, satisfactory
to God, because safe to the interests of His kingdom.
Thus far we may advance safely and on solid ground, by the simple light of nature.
If there were no Bible, we might know so much with absolute certainty. So far, even
infidels are compelled to go.
Here, then, we are, under absolute and most righteous condemnation. Is there any
way of escape? If so, it must be revealed to us in the Bible; for from any other
source it can not come. The Bible does profess to reveal a method of escape. This
is the great burden of its message.
It opens with a very brief allusion to the circumstances under which sin came into
the world. Without being very minute as to the manner in which sin entered, it is
exceedingly full, clear, and definite in its showing as to the fact of sin in the
race. That God regards the race as in sin and rebellion is made as plain as language
can make it. It is worthy of notice that this fact and the connected fact of possible
pardon, are affirmed on the same authority -- with the same sort of explicitness
and clearness. These facts stand or fall together. Manifestly God intended to impress
on all minds these two great truths -- first, that man is ruined by his own sin;
secondly, that he may be saved through Jesus Christ. To deny the former is to gainsay
both our own irresistible convictions and God's most explicit revealed testimony;
to deny the latter, is to shut the door, of our own free act and accord, against
all hope of our own salvation.
The philosophical explanations of the reasons and governmental bearings of the atonement
must not be confounded with the fact of an atonement. Men may be saved by the fact
if they simply believe it, while they may know nothing about the philosophical explanation.
The apostles did not make much account of the explanation, but they asserted the
fact most earnestly, gave miracles as testimony to prove their authority from God,
and so besought men to believe the fact and be saved. The fact, then, may be savingly
believed, and yet the explanation be unknown. This has been the case, no doubt, with
scores of thousands.
Yet it is very useful to understand the reasons and governmental grounds of the atonement.
It often serves to remove skepticism. It is very common for lawyers to reject the
fact, until they come to see the reasons and governmental bearings of the atonement;
this seen, they usually admit the fact. There is a large class of minds who need
to see the governmental bearings, or they will reject the fact. The reason why the
fact is so often doubted is, that the explanations given have been unsatisfactory.
They have misrepresented God. No wonder men should reject them, and with them, the
fact of any atonement at all.
The atonement is a governmental expedient to sustain law without the execution of
its penalty on the sinner. Of course, it must always be a difficult thing in any
government to sustain the authority of law, and the respect due to it, without the
execution of penalty. Yet God has accomplished it most perfectly.
A distinction must here be made between public and retributive justice.
The latter visits on the head of the individual sinner a punishment corresponding
to the nature of his offence. The former, public justice, looks only toward the general
good, and must do that which will secure the authority and influence of law, as well
as the infliction of the penalty would do it. It may accept a substitute, provided
it be equally effective to the support of law and the ensuring of obedience.
Public justice, then. may be satisfied in one of two ways, to wit -- either by the
full execution of the penalty, or by some substitute, which shall answer the ends
of government at least equally well. When, therefore, we ask -- What is necessary
for the ends of public justice? The answer is,
- 1. Not the literal execution of the penalty; for
if so, it must necessarily fall on the sinner, and on no one else.
- Besides, it could be no gain to the universe for
Christ to suffer the full and exact penalty due to every lost sinner who should be
saved by Him. The amount of suffering being the same in the one case as in the other,
where is the gain? And yet, further, if the administration of justice is to be retributive,
then it cannot fall on Christ, and must fall on the sinner himself. If not retributive,
it certainly may be, as compared with that due the sinner, far different in kind
and less in degree.
It has sometimes been said that Christ suffered all in degree and the same in kind
as all the saved must else have suffered; but human reason revolts at this assumption,
and certainly the Scriptures do not affirm it.
- 2. Some represent that God needs to be appeased,
and to have His feelings conciliated. This is an egregious mistake. It utterly misrepresents
God and misconceives the atonement.
- 3. It is no part of public justice that an innocent
being should suffer penalty or punishment, in the proper sense of these terms. Punishment
implies crime -- of which Christ had none. Christ, then, was not punished.
Let it be distinctly understood that the divine
law originates in God's benevolence, and has no other than benevolent ends in view.
It was revealed only and solely to promote the greatest possible good, by means of
obedience. Now, such a law can allow of pardon, provided an expression can be given
which will equally secure obedience -- making an equal revelation of the law-giver's
firmness, integrity, and love. The law being perfect, and being most essential to
the good of His creatures, God must not set aside its penalty without some equivalent
influence to induce obedience.
The penalty was designed as a testimony to God's regard for the precept of His law,
and to His purpose to sustain it. An atonement, therefore, which should answer as
a substitute for the infliction of this penalty, must be of such sort as to show
God's regard for both the precept and penalty of His law. It must be adapted to enforce
obedience. Its moral power must be in this respect equal to that of the infliction
of the penalty on the sinner.
Consequently, we find that, in this atonement, God has expressed His high regard
for His law and for obedience to it.
The design of executing the penalty of the law was to make a strong impression of
the majesty, excellence, and utility of the law. Anything may answer as a substitute,
which will as thoroughly demonstrate the mischief and odiousness of sin, God's hatred
to it, and His determination to carry out His law in all its demands. Especially
may the proposed substitute avail if it shall also make a signal manifestation of
God's love to sinners. This, the atonement, by the death of Christ, has most emphatically
Every act of rebellion denounces the law. Hence, before God can pardon rebellion,
He must make such a demonstration of His attitude toward sin as shall thrill the
heart of the created universe, and make every ear tingle. Especially for the ends
of the highest obedience, it was needful to make such demonstration as shall effectually
secure the confidence and love of subjects toward their Lawgiver -- such as shall
show that He is no tyrant, and that He seeks only the highest obedience and consequent
happiness of His creatures. This done, God will be satisfied.
Now, what can be done to teach these lessons, and to impress them with great and
everlasting emphasis on the universe?
God's testimony must be so given as to be well understood. Obviously, the testimony
to be given must come from God, for it is His view of law, penalty, and substitute
that needs to be revealed. Every one must see that if He were to execute law on the
sinner, this would show at once His view of the value of the law. But, plainly, His
view of the same thing must be shown with equal force by any proposed substitute,
before He could accept it as such.
Again, in this transaction, the precept of the law must be accepted and honored both
by God and by Jesus as Mediator. The latter, as the representative of the race, must
honor the law by obeying it, and by publicly endorsing it -- otherwise, the requisite
homage can not be shown to the divine law in the proposed atonement. This has been
Again, to make adequate provision for the exercise of mercy to the race, it is plainly
essential that, in the person of their mediator, both the divine and the human should
be united. God and man are both to be represented in the atonement; the divine Word
represented the Godhead; the man Jesus represented the race to be redeemed. What
the Bible thus asserts, is verified in the history of Jesus, for He said and did
things which could not have been said and done unless He had been man, and equally
could not have been unless He were also God. On the one hand, too weak to carry His
cross, through exhaustion of the human; and on the other, mighty to hush the tempest
and to raise the dead, through the plenitude of divine power. Thus God and man are
both represented in Jesus Christ.
The thing to be done, then, required that Jesus Christ should honor the law and fully
obey it; this He did. Standing for the sinner, he must, in an important sense, bear
the curse of the law -- not the literal penalty, but a vast amount of suffering,
sufficient, in view of His relations to God and the universe, to make the needed
demonstration of God's displeasure against sin, and yet of His love for both the
sinner and all His moral subjects. On the one hand, Jesus represented the race; on
the other, He represented God. This is a most divine philosophy.
The sacrifice made on Calvary is to be understood as God's offering to public justice
-- God Himself giving up His Son to death, and this Son pouring forth His life's
blood in expiation for sin -- thus throwing open the folding gates of mercy to a
sinning, lost race. This must be regarded as manifesting His love to sinners. This
is God's ransom provided for them. Look at the state of the case. The supreme Law-giver,
and indeed the government of the universe, had been scouted by rebellion; of course
there can be no pardon till this dishonor done to God and His law is thoroughly washed
away. This is done by God's free-will offering of His own Son for these great sins.
This being all done for you, sinners, what do you think of it? What do you think
of that appeal which Paul writes and God makes through him, "I beseech you,
therefore, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,
holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." Think of those mercies.
Think how Christ poured out His life for you. Suppose He were to appear in the midst
of you today, and holding up His hands, dripping with blood, should say, "I
beseech you by the mercies shown you by God, that ye present your bodies a living
sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God!" Would you not feel the force of His appeal
that this is a "reasonable service?" Would not this love of Christ constrain
you? What do you think of it? Did He die for all that they which live should not
henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him that loved them and gave Himself for
them? What do you say? just as the uplifted ax would otherwise have fallen on your
neck, He caught the blow on His own. You could have had no life if He had not died
to save it; then what will you do? Will you have this offered mercy or reject it?
Yield to Him the life He has in such mercy spared, or refuse to yield it?
- 1. The governmental bearings of this scheme are
perfectly apparent. The whole transaction tends powerfully to sustain God's law,
and to reveal His love and even mercy to sinners. It shows that He is personally
ready to forgive, and needs only to have such an arrangement made that He can do
it safely as to His government. What could show His readiness to forgive so strikingly
as this? See how carefully He guards against the abuse of pardon! Always ready to
pardon, yet ever watchful over the great interests of obedience and happiness, lest
they be imperilled by its freeness and fullness!
- 2. Why should it ever be thought incredible that
God should devise such a scheme of atonement? Is there anything in it that is unlike
God or inconsistent with His revealed character? I doubt whether any moral agent
can understand this system and yet think it incredible. Those who reject it as incredible,
must have failed to understand it.
- 3. The question might be asked -- Why did Christ
die at all, if not for us? He had never sinned; did not die on His own account as
a sinner; nor did He die as the infants of our race do, with a moral nature yet undeveloped,
and who yet belong to a sinning race. The only account to be given of His death is,
that He died not for Himself, but for us.
- It might also be asked -- Why did He die so? See
Him expiring between two thieves, and crushed down beneath a mountain weight of sorrow.
Why was this? Other martyrs have died shouting; He died in anguish and grief, cast
down and agonized beneath the hidings of His Father's face.
All nature seemed to sympathize with His griefs. Mark -- the sun is clothed in darkness;
the rocks are rent; the earth quakes beneath your feet; all nature is convulsed.
Even a heathen philosopher exclaimed -- Surely the universe is coming to an end,
or the Maker of the universe is dying! Hark, that piercing cry, "My God, my
God; why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
On the supposition of His dying as a Saviour for sinners, all is plain. He dies for
the government of God, and must needs suffer these things to make a just expression
of God's abhorrence of sin. While He stands in the place of guilty sinners, God must
frown on Him and hide His face. This reveals both the spirit of God's government
and His own infinite wisdom.
- 4. Some have impeached the atonement as likely
to encourage sin. But such persons neglect the very important distinction between
the proper use of a thing and its abuse. No doubt the best things in the universe
may be abused, and by abuse be perverted to evil, and all the more by how much the
better they are in their legitimate use.
- Of the natural tendency of the atonement to good,
it would seem that no man can rationally doubt. The tendency of manifesting such
love, meekness, and self-sacrifice for us, is to make the sinner trust and love,
and to make him bow before the cross with a broken and contrite heart. But many do
abuse it; and the best things, abused, become the worst. The abuse of the atonement
is the very reason why God sends sinners to hell. He says, "He that despised
Moses' law, died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment,
suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God,
and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and hath done despite to the
Spirit of grace?"
Hence, if any sinner will abuse atoning blood, and trample down the holy law, and
the very idea of returning to God in penitence and love, God will say of him, "Of
how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy" than he who despised Moses'
law and fell beneath its vengeance?
- 5. It is a matter of fact, that this manifestation
of God in Christ does break the heart of sinners. It has subdued many hearts, and
will thousands more. If they believe it and hold it as a reality, must it not subdue
their heart to love and grief? Do not you think so? Certainly, if you saw it as it
is, and felt the force of it in your heart, you would sob out on your very seat,
break down and cry out -- Did Jesus love me so? And shall I love sin any more? Ah,
your heart would melt as thousands have been broken and melted in every age, when
they have seen the love of Jesus as revealed on the cross. That beautiful hymn puts
the case truthfully --
- "I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood;
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near the cross I stood."
But it was not the first look that fully broke his heart. It was only when --
- "A second look He gave which said,
I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid --
I die that thou mayest live,"
that his whole heart broke, tears fell like rain, and he withheld no power of his
being in the full consecration of his soul to this Saviour.
This is the genuine effect of the sinner's understanding the Gospel and giving Jesus
Christ credit for His loving-kindness in dying for the lost. Faith thus breaks the
stony heart. If this demonstration of God's love in Christ does not break your heart,
nothing else will. If this death and love of Christ do not constrain you, nothing
But if you do not look at it, and will not set your mind upon it, it will only work
your ruin. To know this Gospel only enough to reject and disown it, can serve no
other purpose save to make your guilt the greater, and your doom the more fearful.
- 6. Jesus was made a sin-offering for us. How beautifully
this was illustrated under the Mosaic system! The victim was brought out to be slain;
the blood was carried in and sprinkled on the mercy-seat. This mercy-seat was no
other than the sacred cover or lid of the ark which contained the tables of the law
and other sacred memorials of God's ancient mercies. There they were, in that deep
recess -- within which none might enter on pain of death, save the High Priest, and
he only once a year, on the great day of atonement. On this eventful day, the sacred
rites culminated to their highest solemnity. Two goats were brought forward, upon
which the High Priest laid his hands and confessed publicly his own sins and the
sins of all the people. Then one was driven far away into the wilderness, to signify
how God removes our sins far as the east is from the west; the other was slain, and
its blood borne by the High Priest into the most holy place, and sprinkled there
upon the mercy-seat beneath the cherubim. Meanwhile, the vast congregation stood
without, confessing their sins, and expecting remission only through the shedding
of blood. It was as if the whole world had been standing around the base of Calvary,
confessing their sins, while Jesus bore His cross to the summit, to hang thereon,
and bleed and die for the sins of men. How fitting that, while Christ is dying, we
should be confessing!
- Some of you may think it a great thing to go on
a foreign mission. But Jesus has led the way. He left heaven on a foreign mission;
came down to this more than heathen world, and no one ever faced such self-denial.
Yet He fearlessly marched up without the least hesitation to meet the consequences.
Never did He shrink from disgrace, from humiliation, or torture. And can you shrink
from following the footsteps of such a leader? Is anything too much for you to suffer,
while you follow in the lead of such a Captain of your salvation?
SERMON XIII. Back to Top
WHERE SIN OCCURS GOD CANNOT WISELY PREVENT IT.
"It is impossible but that offences come; but woe unto him through whom they
come!" -- Luke xvii. 1.
AN "offence" as used in this passage,
is an occasion of falling into sin. It is anything which causes another to sin and
It is plain that the author of the offence is in this passage conceived of as voluntary
and as sinful in his act; else the woe of God would not be denounced upon him.
Consequently the passage assumes that this sin is in some sense necessary and unavoidable.
What is true of this sin in this respect is true of all other sin. Indeed any sin
may become an offence in the sense of a temptation to others to sin, and therefore
its necessity and unavoidableness would then be affirmed by this text.
The doctrine of this text, therefore, is that sin, under the government of God, can
not be prevented. I purpose to examine this doctrine; to show that, nevertheless,
sin is utterly inexcusable as to the sinner; then answer some objections, and conclude
- 1. When we say it is impossible to prevent sin
under the government of God, the statement still calls for another inquiry, viz.:
Where does this impossibility lie? Is it on the part of the sinner, or on the part
of God? Which is true; that the sinner can not possibly forbear to sin, or that God
can not prevent his sinning?
- The first supposition answers itself, for it could
not be sin if it were utterly unavoidable. It might be his misfortune; but nothing
could be more unjust than to impute it to him as his crime.
But we shall better understand where this impossibility does and must lie, if we
first recall to mind some of the elementary principles of God's government.
Let us, then, consider that God's government over men is moral, and known to be such
by every intelligent being. By the term moral, I mean that it governs by motives,
and does not move by physical force. It adapts itself to mind, not to matter. It
contemplates mind as having intellect to understand truth, sensibility to appreciate
its bearing upon happiness, conscience to judge of the right, and a will to determine
a course of voluntary action in view of God's claims. So God governs mind. Not so
does He govern matter. The planetary worlds are controlled by quite a different sort
of agency. God does not move them in their orbits by motives, but by a physical agency.
I said, all men know this government to be moral by their own consciousness. When
its precepts and its penalties come before their minds, they are conscious that an
appeal is made to their voluntary powers. They are never conscious of any physical
agency coercing obedience.
God's government implies in man the power to will, or not to will; to will right,
or to will wrong: to choose or to refuse the great good which Jehovah promises. It
also implies intelligence. The beings to whom law is addressed are capable of understanding
it. They have also, as I have said, a conscience, by which they can appreciate and
must affirm its obligations.
You need to distinguish broadly between the influence of motive on mind and of mechanical
force upon matter. The former implies voluntariness; the latter does not. The former
is adapted to mind and has no adaptation to matter; the latter equally is adapted
to matter, but has no possible application to mind. In God's government over the
human mind, all is voluntary; nothing is coerced as by physical force. Indeed, it
is impossible that physical force should directly influence mind. Compulsion is precluded
by the very nature of moral agency. Where compulsion begins, moral agency ends. If
it were possible for God to force the will as He forces the moon along in her orbit,
to do so would subvert the very idea of a moral government. Neither praise nor blame
could attach to any actions of beings, so moved. Persuasion, brought to bear upon
mind, is always such in its nature that it can be resisted. By the very nature of
the case, God's creatures must have power to resist any amount of even His persuasion.
There can be no power in heaven or earth to coerce the will, as matter is coerced.
The nature of mind forbids its possibility. And if it were possible, it would still
be true that in just so far as God should coerce the human will, He would cease to
God is infinitely wise. Men can no more doubt this than they can doubt their own
existence. He has infinite knowledge. He knows everything i.e., all objects of knowledge;
and knows them all perfectly. He is also infinitely good, His will being always conformed
to His perfect knowledge and always controlled by infinite benevolence.
His infinite goodness implies that He does the best He can, always, and everywhere.
In no instance does He ever fail to do the very best He can do, so that He can appeal
to every creature and say -- What more can I do to prevent sin than I am doing? Indeed,
He does so appeal to every intelligent mind. He made this appeal through Isaiah to
the ancient Jews, "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge,
I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?"
Every moral agent in the universe knows that God has done the best He could do in
regard to sin. Do not you know this, each one of you? Certainly you do. He Himself,
in all His infinite wisdom, could not suggest a better course than that which He
has taken. Men know this truth so well, they never can know it better. You may at
some future day realize it more fully when you shall come to see its millions of
illustrations drawn out before your eyes; but no demonstration can make its proof
more perfect than it is to your own minds today.
Now sin does, in fact, exist under God's government. For this sin, God either is
or is not to blame. Every man knows that God is not to blame for this sin, for man's
own nature affirms that He would prevent it if He wisely could. Certainly if He was
able wisely to prevent sin in any case where it actually occurs, then not to do so
nullifies all our conceptions of His goodness and wisdom. He would be the greatest
sinner in the universe if, with power and wisdom adequate to the prevention of sin,
He had failed to prevent it.
Let me here note, also, that what God can not do wisely, He can not (speaking morally)
do at all. For He can not act unwisely. He can not do things which wisdom forbids.
To do so would be to undeify Himself. The supposition would make Him cease to be
perfect, and this were equivalent to ceasing to be God.
Or thus: If He were to interpose unwisely to prevent a sinner from sinning, He would
sin Himself. I speak now of each instance in which God does not, in fact, interpose
to prevent sin. In any of these cases, if He were to interpose unwisely to prevent
sin, He would prevent a man from sinning at the expense of sinning Himself. Here,
then, is the case. A sinner is about to fall before temptation, or in more correct
language, is about to rush into some new sin. God cannot wisely prevent his doing
so. Now what shall be done? Shall He let that sinner rush on to his chosen sin and
self-wrought ruin; or shall He step forward, unwisely, sin Himself, and incur all
the frightful consequences of such a step? He lets the sinner bear his own responsibility.
Why should not He? Who would wish to have God sin?
This is a full explanation of every case in which man does in fact sin and God does
not prevent it.
And this is not conjecture, but is logical certainly. No truth can be more irresistibly
and necessarily certain than this. I once heard a minister say in a sermon, "It
is not irrational to suppose that in each case of sin, it occurs as it does because
God can not prevent it." After he retired from the pulpit, I said to him --
Why did you leave the matter so? You left your hearers to infer that perhaps it might
be in some other way; that this was only a possible theory, yet that some other theory
was perhaps even more probable. Why did you not say, This theory is certain and must
necessarily be true?
Thus the impossibility of preventing sin lies not in the sinner, but wholly with
God. Sin, it should be remembered, is nothing else than an act of free will, always
committed against one's conviction of right. Indeed, if a man did not know that selfishness
is sin, it would not be sin in his case.
Once more, sin is always committed against and in despite of motives of infinitely
greater weight than those which induce to sin. The very fact that his conscience
condemns the sin is his own judgment on the question, proving that in his own view
the motives to sin are infinitely contemptible when put in the scale to measure those
against the sin in question. Every sinner knows that sin is a willful abuse of his
own powers as a moral agent -- of those noblest powers of his being in view of which
he is especially said to be made in the image of God. Made like God with these exalted
attributes, capable of determining his own voluntary activities intelligently if
he will; in accordance with his reason and his conscience if he will; he yet in every
act of sin abuses and degrades these powers, tramples down in the very dust the image
of God enstamped on his being, and with the capacities of becoming an angel, makes
himself a fool. Clothed with a dignity of nature akin to that of his Maker, he chooses
to debase himself to the level of brutes and of devils. With a face naturally looking
upwards; with an intelligence that grasps the great truths of God; with a reason
that postulates and affirms the great necessary principles involved in his moral
duties and relations; with capacities which fit him to sit on a nation's throne;
he yet says -- Let me take this glorious image of God and debase it in the dust!
Let me cast myself down, till there shall be no lower depth of degradation to which
I can sink!
Sin is in every instance a dishonoring of God. This every sinner must know. It casts
off His authority, spurns His advice, maltreats His love. Truly does God Himself
say, "A son honoreth his father and a servant his master; if then I be a father,
where is mine honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear?"
What sinner ever supposed that God neglects to do anything He wisely can do to prevent
sin? If this be not true, what is conscience but a lie and a delusion? Conscience
always affirms that God is clear of all guilt in reference to sin. In every instance
in which conscience condemns the sinner, it necessarily must, and actually does,
fully acquit God.
These remarks will suffice to show that sin in
every instance of its commission is utterly inexcusable.
We are next to notice some objections.
- 1. "If God is infinitely wise and good, why
need we pray at all? If He will surely do the best possible thing always and all
the good He can do, why need we pray?"
- I answer. Because His infinite goodness and wisdom
enjoin it upon us. Who could ask a better reason than this? If you believe in His
infinite wisdom and goodness, and make this belief the basis of your objection, you
will certainly, if honest, be satisfied with this answer.
But again I answer. It might be wise and good for Him to do many things if sought
unto in prayer, which He could not wisely do, unasked. You can not, therefore, infer
that prayer never changes the course which God voluntarily pursues.
- 2. Objecting again, you ask why we should pray
to God to prevent sin, if He can not prevent it? If under the circumstances in which
sin exists, God can not, as you hold, prevent sin, why go to Him and pray Him to
- I answer. We pray for the very purpose of changing
the circumstances. This is our object. And prayer does change the circumstances.
If we step forward and offer fervent, effectual prayer, this quite changes the state
of the case. Look at Moses pleading with God to spare the nation after their great
sin in the matter of the golden calf. God said to him, "Let me alone that I
may destroy them, and I will make of thee a great nation." Nay, said Moses,
for what will the Egyptians say? And what will all the nations say? They have long
time said, The God of that people will not be able to get them through that vast
wilderness; now therefore, what will thou do for Thy great name? "Yet now, if
Thou wilt, forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which
Thou hast written."
This prayer, coming up before God, greatly changed the circumstances of the case.
For this prayer, God could honorably spare the nation -- it was so honorable for
Him to answer this prayer.
- 3. Yet further objecting, you ask, "Why did
God create moral agents at all if He foresaw that He could not prevent their sinning?"
- I answer. Because He saw that on the whole it
was better to do so. He could prevent some sin in this race of moral agents; could
overrule what He could not wisely prevent, so as to bring out from it a great deal
of good, and so that in the long run, He saw it better, with all the results before
Him, to create than to forbear; therefore, wisdom and love made it necessary that
He should create. Having the power to create a race of moral beings -- having also
power to convert and save a vast multitude of them, and power also to overrule the
sin He should not prevent so that it should evolve immense good, how could He forbear
to create as He did?
- 4. But if God can not prevent sin, will He not
- No; He is entirely satisfied to do the best He
can, and accept the results.
- 5. But some will say -- Is not this "limiting
the Holy One of Israel?" No. It is no proper limitation of God's power to say
that He can not do anything that is unwise. Nor do we limit His power when we say
-- He can not move mind just as He moves a planet. That is no proper subject of power
which is in its own nature absurd and impossible.
- Yet these are the only directions in which we
have spoken of any limitations to His power.
But you say, Could not God prevent sin by annihilating each moral agent the instant
before he would sin? Doubtless He could; but we say if this were wise He would have
done it. He has not done it, certainly not in all cases, and therefore it is not
But you say, Let Him give more of His Holy Spirit. I answer, He does give all He
can wisely, under existing circumstances. To suppose He might give more than He does,
circumstances being the same, is to impeach His wisdom or His goodness.
Some people seem greatly horrified at the idea of setting limits to God's power.
Yet they make assumptions which inevitably impeach His wisdom and His goodness. Such
persons need to consider that if we must choose between limiting His power on the
one hand, or His wisdom and His love on the other, it is infinitely more honorable
to Him to adopt the former alternative than the latter. To strike a blow at His moral
attributes, is to annihilate His throne. And further, let it be also considered,
as we have already suggested, that you do not in any offensive sense limit His power
when you assume that He can not do things naturally impossible, and can not act unwisely.
Let these remarks suffice in the line of answer
to objections I know that you who are students will say that this must be true. You
are accustomed to notice the action of your own moral powers. You have a moral sense,
and it has been in some good degree developed. You know it is utterly impossible
that God should act unwisely. You know He must act benevolently, always doing the
best thing He can do. He has given you a nature which affirms, postulates, intuits
these truths. Else there could be no conscience. The presence and action of a conscience
implies that these great truths respecting the moral nature of God are indisputably
affirmed in your soul by your own moral nature.
I address you, therefore, as those who have a conscience. Suppose it were otherwise.
Suppose all that we call conscience -- the entire moral side of your nature -- should
suddenly drop out, and I should find myself speaking to a shoal of moral idiots --
beings utterly void of a conscience! How desolate the scene! But I am not speaking
to such an audience. Therefore I am sure that you will understand and appreciate
what I say.
- 1. We may see the only sense in which God could
have purposed the existence of sin. It is simply negative. He purposed not to prevent
it in any case where it does actually occur. He does not purpose to make moral agents
sin; not, for example, Adam and Eve in the garden, or Judas in the matter of betraying
Christ. All He purposed to do Himself was to leave them with only a certain amount
of restraint -- as much as He could wisely impose; and then if they would sin, let
them bear the responsibility. He left them to act freely and did not positively prevent
their sinning. He never uses means to make men sin. He only forbears to use unwise
means to prevent their sinning. Thus His agency in the existence of sin is only negative.
- 2. The existence of sin does not prove that it
is the necessary means of the greatest good. Some of you are aware that this point
has been often mooted in theological discussions.
- I do not purpose now to go into it at length,
but will only say that in all cases wherein men sin, they might obey God instead
of sinning. Now the question here is -- If they were to obey rather than sin, would
not a greater good accrue? We have these two reasons for the affirmative: (1), that
by natural tendency, obedience promotes good and disobedience evil: and (2), that
in all those cases, God earnestly and positively enjoins obedience. It is fair to
presume that He would enjoin that which would secure the greatest good.
- 3. The human conscience always justifies God.
This is an undeniable fact -- a fact of universal consciousness. The proof of it
can never be made stronger, for it stands recorded in each man's bosom.
- Yet a very remarkable book has recently appeared,
"The Conflict of Ages" -- which is obviously built upon the opposite assumption,
viz., that the human conscience does not unqualifiedly condemn man; but except under
the light of this peculiar theory, does in fact condemn God. This theory, adopted
professedly to vindicate God as against the human conscience, holds that there was
a pre-existent state in which we all lived and sinned, and there forfeited our title
to a moral nature, unbiased toward sinning. There we had a fair probation. Here,
if we suppose this to be the commencement of our moral agency, we do not have a fair
probation, and conscience therefore does not, and in truth can not, justify God except
on the supposition of a pre-existent state.
The entire book, therefore, is built on the assumption of a conflict between the
human conscience and God. A shocking assumption! A brother remarked to me of this
that it seemed to him to be the most outrageous and blasphemous indictment against
God that could be drawn. Yet the author intended no such thing. He is undoubtedly
a good man, but, in this particular, egregiously mistaken.
The fact is, conscience does always condemn the sinner and justify God. It could
not affirm obligation without justifying God. The real controversy, therefore, is
not between God and the conscience, but between God and the heart. In every instance
in which sin exists, conscience condemns the sinner and justifies God. This of itself
is a perfect and sufficient answer to the whole doctrine of that book. It knocks
out the only and whole foundation on which it is built. If that book be true, men
never should have had a conscience until that book was published, read, understood,
and believed. No man should ever have been convicted of sin until he came to see
that he had existed in a previous state and began his sinning there.
Yet the facts arc right over against this. Everywhere in all ages, with no deference
to this book, and no disposition to wait for its tardy developments -- everywhere
and through all time the human conscience has stood up to condemn each sinner and
compel him to sign his own death-warrant; and acquit his Maker of all blame. These
are the facts of human nature and life.
- 4. Conversion consists precisely in this: the
heart's consent to these decisions of the conscience. It is for the heart to come
over to the ground occupied by the conscience, and thoroughly acquiesce in it as
right and true. Conscience has a long time been speaking; it has always held one
doctrine, and has long been resisted by the heart. Now, in conversion, the heart
comes over, and gives in its full assent to the decisions of conscience; that God
is right, and that sin and himself a sinner are utterly wrong.
- And now do any of you want to know how you may
become a Christian? This is it. Let your heart justify God and condemn sin, even
as your conscience does. Let your voluntary powers yield to the necessary affirmations
of your reason and conscience. Then all will be peaceful within because all will
But you say, I am trying to do this! Ah, I know it to be the case with some of you
that you are trying to resist to your utmost. You settle down, as it were, with your
whole weight while God would fain draw you by His truth and Spirit. Yet you fancy
you are really trying to yield your heart to God. A most unaccountable delusion!
- 5. In the light of this subject we can see the
reason for a general judgment. God intends to clear Himself from all imputation of
wrong in the matter of sin before the entire moral universe. Strange facts have transpired
in His universe, and strange insinuations have been made against His course. These
matters must all be set right. For this He will take time enough. He will wait till
all things are ready. Obviously He could not bring out His great trial-day till the
deeds of earth have all been wrought -- till all the events of this wondrous drama
have had their full development. Until then He will not be ready to make a full expose
of all His doings. Then He can and will do it most triumphantly and gloriously.
- The revelations of that day will doubtless show
why God did not interpose to prevent every sin in the universe. Then He will satisfy
us as to the reasons He had for suffering Adam and Eve to sin and for leaving Judas
to betray his Master. We know now that He is wise and good, although we do not know
all the particular reasons for His conduct in the permission of sin. Then He will
reveal those particular reasons, as far as it may be best and possible. No doubt
He will then show that His reasons were so wise and good that He could not have done
- 6. Sin will then appear infinitely inexcusable
and odious. It will then be seen in its true relations toward God and His intelligent
creatures, inexpressibly blameworthy and guilty.
- Take a case. Suppose a son has gone far away from
the paths of obedience and virtue. He has had one of the best of fathers, but he
would not hear his counsels. He had a wise and affectionate mother, but he sternly
resisted all the appeals of her tenderness and tears. Despite of the most watchful
care of parents and friends, he would go astray. As one madly bent on self-ruin,
he pushed on, reckless of the sorrow and grief he brought upon those he should have
honored and loved. At last the issues of such a course stand revealed. The guilty
youth finds himself ruined in constitution, in fortune, and in good name. He has
sunk far too low to retain even self-respect. Nothing remains for him but agonizing
reflections on past folly and guilt. Hear him bewail his own infatuation. "Alas,"
he cries, "I have almost killed my venerable father, and long ago I had quite
broken my mother's heart. All that folly and crime in a son could do, I have done
to bring down their gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. No wonder that having done
so much to ruin my best friends, I have plucked down a double ruin on my own head.
No sinner ever more richly deserved to be doubly damned than myself."
Thus truth flashes upon his soul and thus his heart quails and his conscience thunders
condemnation. So it must be with every sinner when all his sins against God shall
stand revealed before his eyes, and there shall be nothing left for him but intense
and unqualified self-condemnation.
- 7. God's omnipotence is no guaranty to any man
that either himself or any other sinner will be saved. I know the Universalist affirms
it to be. He will ask -- Does not the fact of God's omnipotence, taken in connection
with His infinite love, prove that all men will be saved? I answer, No! It does not
prove that God will save one soul. With ever so much proof of God's perfect wisdom,
love, and power we could not infer that He would save even one sinner. We might just
as reasonably infer that He would send the whole race to hell. How could we know
what His wisdom would determine? How could we infer what the exigencies of His government
might demand? In fact, the only ground we have for the belief that He will save any
sinner is not at all our inference from His wisdom, love, and power; but is wholly
and only His own declarations as to this matter. Our knowledge is wholly from revelation.
God has said so; and this is all we know about it.
- Yet further I reply to the Universalist, that
God's omnipotence saves nobody. Salvation is not wrought by physical omnipotence.
It is only by moral power that God saves, and this can save no man unless he consents
to be saved.
- 8. How bitter the reflections which sinners must
have on their death-bed, and how fearfully agonizing when they pass behind the veil
and see things in their true light. Did you ever think when you have seen a sinner
dying in his sins what an awful thing it is for a sinner to die? You mark the lines
of anguish on his countenance; you see the look of despair; you observe he can not
bear to hear the word of the awful future. There he lies, and death pushes on his
stern assault. The poor victim struggles in vain against his dreaded foe. He sinks,
and sinks, his pulse runs lower, and yet lower; look in his glassy eye; mark that
haggard brow; there, he breathes not; but all suddenly he stares as one affrighted;
throws up his hands wildly, screams frightfully; sinks down and is gone to return
no more! And where is he now? Not beyond the scope of thought and reflection. He
can see back into the world he has left. Still he can think. Alas, his misery is
that he can do nothing but think! As said the prisoner in his solitary cell: I could
bear torture or I could endure toil; but O, to have nothing to do but to think! To
hear the voice of friend no more -- to say not a word -- to do nothing from day to
day and from year to year but to think! that is awful. So of the lost sinner. Who
can measure the misery of incessant self-agonizing thought? Now, when at any time
your reflections press uncomfortably and you feel that you shall almost go deranged,
you can find some drop of comfort for your fevered lips; you can for a few moments,
at least, fall asleep, and so forget your sorrows and find a transient rest; but
oh! when you shall reach the world where the wicked find no rest -- where there can
be no sleep -- where not one drop of water can reach you to cool your tongue. Alas,
how can your heart endure or your hands be strong in that dread hour! God tried in
vain to bless and save you. You fought Him back and plucked down on your guilty head
a fearful damnation!
- 9. What infinite consolation will remain to God
after He shall have closed up the entire scenes of earth! He has banished the wicked
and taken home the righteous to His bosom of love and peace. I have done, says He,
all I wisely could to save the race of man. I made sacrifices cheerfully; sent my
well-beloved Son gladly; waited as long as it seemed wise to wait, and now it only
remains to overrule all this pain and woe for the utmost good, and rejoice in the
bliss of the redeemed forevermore.
- There are the guilty lost. Their groans swell
out and echo up the walls of their pit of woe; it is to so much evidence that God
is good and wise and will surely sustain His throne in equity and righteousness forever.
It teaches most impressive lessons upon the awful doom of sin. There let it stand
and bear its testimony, to warn other beings against a course so guilty and a doom
There, in that world of woe, may be some of our pupils possibly some of our own children.
But God is just and His throne stainless of their blood. It shall not mar the eternal
joy of His kingdom, that they would pull down such damnation on their heads. They
insisted they would take the responsibility, and now they have it.
Sinner, do you not care for this today? Will you come to the inquiry meeting this
evening to trifle about your salvation? I can tell you where you will not trifle.
When the great bell of time shall toll the death-knell of earth and call her millions
of sons and daughters to the final judgment, you will not be in a mood to trifle!
You will surely be there! It will be a time for serious thought -- an awful time
of dread. Are you ready to face its revelations and decisions?
Or do you say, Enough, ENOUGH! I have long enough withstood His grace and spurned
His love; I will now give, my heart to God, to be His only, forevermore?
SERMON XIV. Back to Top
THE INNER AND THE OUTER REVELATION.
THERE are many who believe that a loose indefinite
infidelity has rarely, if ever, been more prevalent in our country than at this time,
especially among young men. I am not prepared to say it is an honest infidelity,
yet it may very probably be real. Young men may really doubt the inspiration of the
Christian Scriptures, not because they have honestly studied those Scriptures and
their numerous evidences, but because they have read them little and reasoned legitimately
yet less. Especially have they almost universally failed to study the intuitive affirmations
of their own minds. They have not examined the original revelation that God has made
in each human soul, to see how far this would carry them, and how wonderfully it
opens the way for understanding and indeed for embracing the revelation given in
To bring these and kindred points before your minds, I have taken as my text, the
words of Paul,
"By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience
in the sight of God." -- 2 Cor. iv. 2.
Paul is speaking of the Gospel ministry which he received, and is stating how he
fulfilled it. He shows plainly that he sought to preach to the human conscience.
He found in each man's bosom a conscience to which he could appeal, and to which
the manifestation of the truth commended itself.
Probably no thoughtful man has ever read the Bible without noticing that there has
been a previous revelation given in some way to man. It assumes many things as known
already. I may have said in the hearing of some of you that I was studying in my
law-office when I bought my first Bible, and that I bought it as one of my law-books.
No sooner had I opened it than I was struck to see how many things it assumed as
known, and therefore states with no attempt at proof. For instance, the first verse
in the Bible, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
This assumes the existence of God. It does not aim to prove this truth; it goes on
the presumption that this revelation -- the existence of a God -- has been made already
to all who are mature enough to understand it. The Apostle Paul also, in his epistle
to the Romans, asserts that the real Godhead and eternal power of the one God, though
in some sense "invisible things," are yet "clearly seen," in
the creation of the world, "being understood by the things that are made,"
so that all wicked men are without excuse. His doctrine is that the created universe
reveals God. And if this be true of the universe without us, it is no less true of
the universe within us. Our own minds -- their convictions, their necessary affirmations
-- do truly reveal God and many of the great truths that respect our relations to
Him and to His government.
When we read the Bible attentively, and notice how many things, of the utmost importance,
it assumes, and bases its precepts on them, without attempting to prove them, we
can not forbear to inquire -- Are these assumptions properly made?
The answer to this question is found when we turn our eye within and inquire for
the intuitive affirmations of our own minds. Then we shall see that we possess an
intellectual and moral nature which as truly reveals great truths concerning God
and our relations to Him and to law, as the material world reveals His eternal power
For instance, we shall see that man has a moral nature related to spiritual and moral
truth, as really as he has a physical nature related to the physical world. As his
senses -- sight, touch, hearing -- intuit certain truths respecting the external
world, so does his spiritual nature intuit certain truths respecting the spiritual
world. No man can well consider the first class of truths without being forced to
consider and believe the second.
Let us see if this be true.
It is not long since I had interviews with a young lady of considerable intelligence
who was a skeptic. She professed to believe in a God and in those great truths pertaining
to His attributes which are embraced in Deism; but she quite rejected the Bible and
all that pertains to a revealed way of salvation.
I began with presenting to her mind some of the great truths taught by the mind's
own affirmations concerning God, His attributes, and government; and then from this
I passed on to show her how the Bible came in to make out a system of truth needful
to man as a lost sinner. She admitted the first, of course; and then she saw that
the second must be true if the first was, or there could be nothing for man but hopeless
ruin. Starting back in horror from the gulf of despair, she saw that only her unbelief
was ruining her soul; and then renouncing this, she yielded her heart to God and
found Gospel peace and joy in believing.
I propose now to present much the same course of thought to you as I did to her.
And here the first great inquiry is -- What ideas does our own nature -- God's first
revelation -- give us?
- (1.) Undoubtedly, the idea of God. Our own minds
affirm that there is and must be a God; that He must have all power and all knowledge.
Our mind also gives us God's moral attributes. No man can doubt that God is good
and just. Men are never afraid that God will do anything wrong. If at all afraid
of God, it is because He is good -- is just and holy.
- (2). Man's nature gives him the idea of law --
moral law. He can no more doubt the existence of a moral law, imposed, too, on himself,
than he can doubt the existence of his own soul and body. He knows he ought not to
be selfish -- ought to be benevolent. He knows he is bound to love his neighbor as
himself -- bound to seek the higher at the sacrifice, if need be, of the lower good.
How is it that men get these ideas? I answer, They
must have them by nature; they must be in the mind before any direct instruction
from human lips, else you could never teach a child these ideas, more than you could
teach them to a horse. The child knows these things before he is taught, and can
not remember when he first had them.
Suppose you were to close your Bible and ask, Now, apart from all this book teaches,
how much do I know? How much must I admit? You would find that your moral nature
gives you the idea of a God, and affirms His existence; it gives you His attributes,
natural and moral, and also your own moral relations to Him and to your fellow-beings.
In proof of this I can appeal to you -- not one of you can say, I am under no obligation
to love God; I am not bound to love my fellow-men. Your moral nature gives you these
things -- it affirms to you these truths, even more directly and undeniably than
your senses give you the facts of the external world. Moreover, your moral nature
not only gives you the law of supreme love to God, and of love equal and impartial
toward your fellow-men, but it affirms that you are sinners; that you have displeased
God -- have utterly failed to please Him, and of course that you are under condemnation
from His righteous law. You know that God's good law must condemn you, because you
have not been good in the sense required by that law. Hence, you must know that you
are in the position of an outlaw, condemned by law, and without hope from the administration
Another thing it gives you, viz., that you are still in impenitence (I speak of those
who know this to be their case); your own conscience affirms this to you past all
contradiction. It affirms that you are still living in sin, and have not reformed
in such a sense that God can accept your reformation. You know that you do violence
to your own conscience, and that while you are doing this you can neither respect
yourself nor be respected by God. You know that long as this is the case with you,
God can not forgive you. Nay, more, if He should, it would do you no good; you could
not be happy; you could not respect yourself even if you were told that you were
forgiven. Indeed, if your nature spoke out unbiased, it would not let you believe
yourself really forgiven, so long as you are doing violence to conscience. I can
remember when these thoughts were in my mind like fire. I saw that no man could doubt
them, any more than he can doubt his own existence. So you may see these truths and
feel their force.
You know, then, that by your sins, you have forfeited the favor of God, and have
no claim on Him at all on the score of justice. You have cast off His authority,
have disowned subjection to His law and government; indeed, you have cast all His
precepts beneath your feet. You can no longer come before God and say, "Thou
oughtest not to cast me off; I have not deserved it at Thy hand." You can no
more say this honestly, than you can deny your own existence.
Did you ever think of this? Have you ever tried this, to see what you can honestly
do and say before God? Have you ever tried to go into God's presence and tell Him
solemnly that He has no right to punish you? Not one of you can tell Him so without
being conscious in yourself of blasphemy.
It is a good method, because it may serve to show you how the case really stands.
Suppose, then, you try it. See what you can honestly and with an approving conscience
say before God, when your soul is deeply impressed with the sense of His presence.
Consider. I am not asking you whether you can harden your heart and violate your
conscience enough to blaspheme God to His face; not this, but I am asking you to
put the honest convictions of your own conscience to the test and see what they are
and what they will allow you to do and to say before God. Can you kneel down before
Him and say, "I deny that I have cast off God. I have never refused to treat
Him as a friend. I have never treated Him as an enemy?"
You know you can make no issue of this sort with God without meeting the rebukes
of your own mind.
Again, you can see no reason to hope for forgiveness under the law. With all the
light of your Deism you can discern no ground of pardon. Outside the Bible, all is
dark as death. There is no hope. If you cherish any, it must be directly in the teeth
of your own solemn convictions. Why do you think it is so difficult to induce a discreet
governor to grant a pardon? When Jerome Bonaparte was monarch of Spain, why did Napoleon
send him that earnest rebuke for pardoning certain criminals? What were the principles
underlying that remarkably able state paper? Have you ever studied those principles,
as they were grasped and presented so vigorously by the mighty mind of Napoleon?
You can never infer from the goodness of God that He can forgive; much less, that
He must. One of the first Universalist preachers I ever heard announced in the outset
that he should infer from the goodness of God that He would save all men. I can well
remember how perfectly shallow his sophistry appeared to me and how absurd his assumptions.
I was no Christian then, but I saw at a glance that he might far better infer from
the goodness of God that He would forgive none than that He would forgive all. It
seemed to me most clear that if God were good and had made a good law, He would sustain
it. Why not? I must suppose that His law is a good one; how could a Being of infinite
wisdom and love impose any other than a good law? And if it were a good law, it had
a good end to answer; and a good God could not suffer it to fail of answering those
ends by letting it come to naught through inefficiency in its administration. I knew
enough about law and government then to see that a firm hand in administration is
essential to any good results from ever so good a law. Of course I knew that if law
were left to be trampled under foot by hardened, blasphemous transgressors, and then
to cap the climax, an indiscriminate pardon were given, and nothing done to sustain
law, there would be an end of all authority and a positive annihilation of all the
good hoped for under its administration. What shall rational men undertake to infer
from God's goodness that He will pardon all sinners? Suppose the spirit of riot and
misrule now so rampant at Erie, Pa., to go on from bad to worse; that the rioters
perpetrate every form of mischief in their power; they tear up the rails, burn down
the bridges, fire into the cars, run whole trains off the track and crush the quivering
flesh of hundreds en masse into heaps of blood and bones; and by and by, when the
guilty are arrested and convicted by due course of law, then the question comes up,
Shall the governor pardon them? He might be very much inclined to do so, if he wisely
could; but the question is -- Can a good governor do it? Supposing him to be purely
good and truly wise, what would he do? Will you say, O he is too good to punish --
he is so good, he will certainly pardon? Will you say that pardon indiscriminately
given, and given to all, and according to previous assurance, moreover, will secure
the highest respect for law and the best obedience? Everybody knows that this is
superlative nonsense. No man who ever had anything to do under the responsibilities
of government, or who has ever learned the A B C of human nature in this relation,
can for one moment suppose that pardon -- in such ways -- can supplant punishment
with any other result than utter ruin. No: if the ruler is good, he will surely punish;
and all the more surely, by how much the more predominant is the element of goodness
in his character.
You, sinners, are under law. If you sin, you must see great reason why God should
punish and not forgive.
Here is another fact. When you look upon yourself and your moral position, you find
yourself twice dead. You are civilly dead in the sense of being condemned by law,
an outcast from governmental favor. You are also morally dead, for you do not love
God, do not serve Him, have no tendencies that draw you back into sympathy with God;
but, on the other hand, you are dead to all considerations that look in this direction.
You are indeed alive to your own low, selfish interests, but dead to God's interests;
you care nothing for God only to avoid Him and escape His judgment. All this you
know, beyond all question.
In this condition, without a further revelation, where is your hope? You have none,
and have no ground for any.
Furthermore, if a future revelation is to be made, revealing some ground of pardon,
you can see with the light now before you on what basis it must rest. You can see
what more you need from God. The first revelation shuts you up to God -- shows you
that if help ever comes, it can not come out of yourself, but must come from God
-- can not come of His justice, but must come from His mercy -- can not come out
of law, but must come from some extra provision whereby law may have its demands
satisfied otherwise than through the execution of its penalty on the offender. Somebody,
you can see, must interpose for you, who can take your part and stand in your stead
before the offended law.
Did you never think of this? In the position where you stand, and where your own
nature and your own convictions place you, you are compelled to say -- My case is
hopeless! I need a double salvation -- from condemnation and from sinning; first
from the curse, and secondly from the heart to sin -- from the tendency and disposition
to commit sin. Inquiring for a revelation to meet these wants of my lost soul, where
can I find it? Is it to be found in all the book of nature nowhere? Look into the
irresistible convictions of your own moral being; they tell you of your wants, but
they give you no supply. They show what you need, but they utterly fail to give it.
Your own moral nature shows that you need an atoning Saviour and a renewing Spirit.
Nothing less can meet the case of a sinner condemned, outlawed, and doubly dead by
the moral corruption of all his voluntary powers.
The worst mischief of infidelity is that it ignores all this; it takes no notice
of one entire side of our nature, and that the most important side; talking largely
about philosophy, it yet restricts itself to the philosophy of the outer world and
has no eye for the inner and higher nature. It ignores the fact that our moral nature
affirms one entire class of great truths, with even more force and certainty than
the senses affirm the facts of the external world. Verily, this is a grand and a
- 1. Without the first revelation the second could
not be satisfactorily proved. When the Bible reveals God, it assumes that our minds
affirm His existence and that we need no higher proof When it reveals His law, it
pre-supposes that we are capable of understanding it, and of appreciating its moral
claims. When it prescribes duty, it assumes that we ought to feel the force of obligation
to obey it.
- Now, the fact that the Bible does make many assumptions
of this sort establishes an intimate and dependent connection between it on the one
hand, and the laws of the human mind on the other. If these assumptions are well
and truly made, then the divine authority of the Bible is abundantly sustained by
its correspondence and harmony with the intellectual and moral nature of man. It
fits the beings to whom it is given. But, on the other hand, if these assumptions
had, on examination, proved false, it would be impossible to sustain the credit of
the Scriptures as coming from a wise and honest Being.
- 2. Having the first revelation, to reject the
second is most absurd. The second is, to a great extent, a re-affirmation of the
first, with various important additions of a supplementary sort, e.g. the atonement,
and hence the possibility of pardon, the gift and work of the Spirit, and hence the
analogous possibility of being saved from sinning.
- Now those things which the first revelation affirms
and the second re-affirms are so fundamental in any revelation of moral duty to moral
beings, that, having them taught so intuitively, so undeniably, we are left self-convicted
of extreme absurdity if we then reject the second. Logically, there seems no ground
left on which to base a denial of the written revelation. Its supplementary doctrines
are not, to be sure, intuitive truths, but they are so related to man's wants as
a lost sinner, and so richly supply those wants; they, moreover, are so beautifully
related to the exigencies of God's government, and so amply meet them, that no intelligent
mind, once apprehending all these things in their actual relations, can fail to recognize
- 3. The study of the first secures an intellectual
reception of the second. I do not believe it possible for a man to read and understand
the first thoroughly and then come to the second and fairly apprehend its relation
to his own moral nature and moral convictions, and also his moral wants without being
compelled to say -- All is true; this book is all true! They coincide so wondrously,
and the former sustains the latter so admirably and so triumphantly, a man can no
more deny the Bible after knowing all his own moral relations than he can deny his
- 4. You see why so many reject the Bible. They
have not well read themselves. They have not looked within, to read carefully the
volume God has put on record there. They have contrived to hush and smother down
the ever-rising convictions of their own moral nature. They have refused to listen
to the cry of want which swells up from their troubled bosom of guilt. Hence, there
is yet one whole volume of revelation of which they are strangely ignorant. This
ignorance accounts for their rejection of the Bible.
- A little attention to the subject will show you
that the ground here indicated is beyond question that on which the masses in every
Christian land really repose their faith in the Bible. Scarce one in ten thousand
of them has studied the historical argument for divine revelation extensively and
carefully, so as intelligently to make this a corner-stone for his faith in the Bible.
It is not reasonable to demand that they should. There is an argument shorter and
infinitely more convincing. It is a simple problem; given, a soul guilty, condemned
and undone; required, some adequate relief. The Gospel solves the problem. Who will
not accept the solution? It answers every condition perfectly; it must, therefore,
come from God; it is at least our highest wisdom to accept it.
If it be replied to this, that such a problem meets the case of those only who give
their hearts to God, it may be modified for yet another class, on this wise: given,
a moral nature which affirms God, law, obligation, guilt, ruin; required, to know
whether a written revelation is reliable, which is built upon the broad basis of
man's intuitive affirmations; which gives them the sanction of man's Creator; which
appends a system of duty and of salvation of such sort that it interlocks itself
inseparably with truth, intuitive to man, and manifestly fills out a complement of
moral instructions and agencies in perfect adaptation to both man and his Maker.
In the Bible, we have the very thing required. A key that threads the countless wards
of such a lock must have been made to fit. Each came from the same Author. You can
not grant to man an origin from God, but you must grant the same origin to the Bible.
When I came to examine these things in the light of my own convictions, I wondered
I had not seen them truly before.
Suppose I should stand here and announce to you the two great precepts of the moral
law; would not their obvious nature and bearings enforce on your mind the conviction
that these precepts must be true and must be from God? As I should descend to particulars,
you would still affirm -- these must be true; these must certainly have come down
from heaven. If I were even to go back to the Mosaic law (a law which many object
against, because they do not understand the circumstances that called for such a
law) -- yet if I should explain their peculiar circumstances, and the reasons for
such statutes, every man must affirm the rectitude of even those statutes. The Old
Testament, I am aware, reveals truth under a veil, the world not being prepared then
for its clearer revelation. The veil was taken away when, in the fullness of time,
people were prepared for unclouded revealings of God in the flesh.
The reason, therefore, why the masses receive the Bible, is not that they are credulous,
and hence swallow down absurdities with ease; but the reason is that it commends
itself so irresistibly to each man's own nature and to his deep and resistless convictions,
he is shut up to receive it -- he must do violence to his inner convictions if he
reject it. Man's whole nature cries out -- This is just what I need! That young lady
of whom I spake could not help but abandon her infidelity and yield up her heart
to God, when she had reached this point. I said -- Do you admit a God? She answered
-- Yes. Do you admit a law? Yes. Do you admit your personal guilt? Yes. And your
need of salvation? O, yes. Can you help yourself? said I. Ah, no, indeed, she said,
I do not believe I can ever be saved.
But God can save you. Surely nothing is too hard for Him.
Alas, she replied, my own nature has shut me up -- I am in despair; there is no way
of escape for me; the Bible, you know, I don't receive; and here I am in darkness
At this point I began to speak of the Gospel. Said I to her -- See there; God has
done such and such things as revealed in the Gospel; He came down and dwelt in human
flesh to meet the case of such sinners as you are; He made an ample atonement for
sin; there, what do you think of that? "That is what I need exactly," said
she," "if it were only true."
If it is not true, said I, you are lost beyond hope! Then why not believe?
I can not believe it, she said, because it is incredible. It is a great deal too
good to be true!
And is not God good, said I -- infinitely good? Then why do you object that anything
He does is too good to be true?
"That is what I need," again she repeated, "but how can it be so?"
Then you can not give God credit for being so good! said I.
Alas, I see it is my unbelief; but I cannot believe. It is what I need, I can plainly
see; but how can I believe it? At this point I rose up and said to her solemnly --
The crisis has come! There is now only one question for you -- Will you believe the
Gospel? She raised her eyes, which had been depressed and covered for half an hour
or more; every feature bespoke the most intense agitation; while I repeated -- Will
you believe God? Will you give Him credit for sincerity? She threw herself upon her
knees, and burst into loud weeping. What a scene -- to see a skeptic beginning to
give her God credit for love and truth! To see the door of light and hope opened,
and heaven's blessed light breaking in upon a desolate soul! Have you ever witnessed
such a scene?
When she next opened her lips, it was to show forth a Saviour's praise!
The Bible assumes that you have light enough to see, and to do your duty, and to
find the way to heaven. A great many of you are perhaps bewildered as to your religious
opinions, holding loose and skeptical notions. You have not seen that it is the most
reasonable thing in the world to admit and embrace this glorious truth. Will you
allow yourself to go on, bewildered, without considering that you are yourself a
living, walking revelation of truth? Will you refuse to come into such relations
to God and Christ as will save your soul?
In my early life, when I was tempted to skepticism, I can well recollect that I said
to myself -- It is much more probable that ministers and the multitudes of good men
who believe the Bible are right, than that I am. They have examined the subject,
but I have not. It is, therefore, entirely unreasonable for me to doubt.
Why should you not say -- I know the Gospel is suited to my wants. I know I am afloat
on the vast ocean of life, and if there is no Gospel, there is nothing that can save
me. It is, therefore, no way for me to stand here and cavil. I must examine -- must
look into this matter. I can at least see that if God offers me mercy, I must not
reject it. Does not this Gospel show you how you can be saved from hell and from
sin? O, then believe it! Let the blessed truth find a heart open for its admission.
When you shall dare to give God credit for all His love and truth, and when you shall
bring your heart under the power of this truth, and yield yourself up to its blessed
sway, that will be the dawn of morning to your soul! Whosoever will, let him come
and take of the waters of life, freely.
SERMON XV. Back to Top
QUENCHING THE SPIRIT.
"Quench not the Spirit." -- 1 Thess. v. 19.
IN discussing the subject presented in this text,
I shall aim,
I. To show how the Holy Spirit influences the mind;
II. To deduce some inferences from the known mode of the Spirit's operations;
III. Show what it is to quench the Spirit;
IV. Show how this may be done; and,
V. The consequences of quenching the Spirit.
I. How does the Holy Spirit influence the human mind?
I answer, not by physical agency -- not by the interposition of direct physical power.
The action of the will is not influenced thus, and can not be. The very supposition
is absurd. That physical agency should produce voluntary mental phenomena just as
it does physical, is both absurd and at war with the very idea of free agency. That
the same physical agency which moves a planet should move the human will is absurd.
But further: the Bible informs us that the Spirit influences the human mind by means
of truth. The Spirit persuades men to act in view of truth, as we ourselves influence
our fellow-men by truth presented to their minds. I do not mean that God presents
truth to the mind in the same manner as we do. Of course His mode of doing it must
differ from ours. We use the pen, the lips, the gesture; we use the language of words
and the language of nature. God does not employ these means now; yet still He reaches
the mind with truth. Sometimes His providence suggests it; and then His Spirit gives
it efficiency, setting it home upon the heart with great power.
Sometimes the Lord makes use of preaching; indeed, His ways are various.
But, whatever the mode, the object is always the same; namely, to produce voluntary
action in conformity to His law.
Now, if the Bible were entirely silent on this subject, we should still know from
the nature of mind, and from the nature of those influences which only can move the
human mind, that the Spirit must exert not physical, but moral influences on the
mind. Yet we are not now left to a merely metaphysical inference; we have the plain
testimony of the Bible to the fact that the Spirit employs truth in converting and
II. We next inquire what is implied in this fact and what must be inferred from
God is physically omnipotent, and yet His moral influences exerted by the Spirit
may be resisted. You will readily see that if the Spirit moved men by physical omnipotence,
no mortal could possibly resist His influence. The Spirit's power would, of course,
be irresistible -- for who could withstand omnipotence?
But now we know it to be a fact that men can resist the Holy Ghost; for the nature
of moral agency implies this and the Bible asserts it.
The nature of moral agency implies the voluntary action of one who can yield to motive
and follow light or not as he pleases. Where this power does not exist, moral agency
can not exist; and at whatever point this power ceases, there moral agency ceases
Hence, if our action is that of moral agents, our moral freedom to do or not do must
remain. It can not be set aside or in any way overruled. If God should in any way
set aside our voluntary agency, he would of necessity terminate at once, our moral
and responsible action. Suppose God should seize hold of a man's arm with physical
omnipotence and forcibly use it in deeds of murder or of arson; who does not see
that the moral, responsible agency of that man would be entirely superseded? Yet
not more so than if, in an equally irresistible manner, God should seize the man's
will and compel it to act as Himself listed.
The very idea that moral influence can ever be irresistible originates in an entire
mistake as to the nature of the will and of moral action. The will of man never can
act otherwise than freely in view of truth and of the motives it presents for action.
Increasing the amount of such influence has no sort of tendency to impair the freedom
of the will. Under any possible vividness of truth perceived, or amount of motive
present to the mind, the will has still the same changeless power to yield or not
yield -- to act or refuse to act in accordance with this perceived truth.
Force and moral agency are terms of opposite meaning, They can not both co-exist.
The one effectually precludes the other. Hence, to say that if God is physically
omnipotent, He can and will force a moral agent in his moral action, is to talk stark
This fact shows that any work of God carried on by moral and not by physical power
not only can be resisted by man, but that man may be in very special danger of resisting
it. If the Lord carries the work forward by means of revealed truth, there may be
most imminent danger lest men will neglect to study and understand this truth, or
lest, knowing, they shall refuse to obey it. Surely it is fearfully within the power
of every man to shut out this truth from his consideration, and bar his heart against
III. We next inquire what it is to quench the Spirit.
We all readily understand this when we come to see distinctly what the work of the
Spirit is. We have already seen that it is to enlighten the mind into truth respecting
God, ourselves, and our duty. For example, the Spirit enlightens the mind into the
meaning and self-application of the Bible. It takes the things of Christ and shows
them to us.
Now there is such a thing as refusing to receive this light You can shut your eyes
against it. You have the power to turn your eye entirely away and scarcely see it
at all. You can utterly refuse to follow it when seen; and in this case God ceases
to hold up the truth before your mind.
Almost every one knows by personal experience that the Spirit has the power of shedding
a marvelous light upon revealed truth, so that this truth shall stand before the
mind in a new and most impressive form, and shall operate upon it with astonishing
energy. But this light of the Spirit may be quenched.
Again: there is, so to speak, a sort of heat, a warmth and vitality attending the
truth when enforced by the Spirit. Thus we say if one has the Spirit of God his soul
is warm; if he has not the Spirit, his heart is cold.
This vital heat produced by the Divine Spirit may be quenched. Let a man resist the
Spirit, and he will certainly quench this vital energy which it exerts upon the heart.
IV. We are next to notice some of the ways in which the Spirit may be quenched.
- 1. Men often quench the Spirit by directly resisting
the truth He presents to their minds. Sometimes men set themselves deliberately to
resist the truth, determined they will not yield to its power, at least for the present.
In such cases it is wonderful to see how great the influence of the will is in resisting
the truth. Indeed, the will can always resist any moral considerations; for, as we
have seen, there is no such thing as forcing the will to yield to truth.
- In those cases wherein the truth presses strongly
on the mind, there is presumptive evidence that the Spirit is present by His power.
And it is in precisely these cases that men are especially prone to set themselves
against the truth, and thus are in the utmost peril of quenching the Spirit. They
hate the truth presented -- it crosses their chosen path, of indulgence -- they feel
vexed and harassed by its claims; they resist and quench the Spirit of the Lord.
You have doubtless often seen such cases, and if so, you have doubtless noticed this
other remarkable fact of usual occurrence -- that after a short struggle in resisting
truth, the conflict is over, and that particular truth almost utterly ceases to affect
the mind. The individual becomes hardened to its power -- he seems quite able to
overlook it and thrust it from his thoughts; or if this fails and the truth is thrown
before his mind, yet he finds it comparatively easy to resist its claims. He felt
greatly annoyed by that truth until he had quenched the Spirit; now he is annoyed
by it no longer.
If you have seen cases of this sort you have doubtless seen how as the truth pressed
upon their minds they became restive, sensitive -- then perhaps angry -- but still
stubborn in resisting -- until at length the conflict subsides; the truth makes no
more impression, and is henceforth quite dead as to them; they apprehend it only
with the greatest dimness, and care nothing about it.
And here let me ask -- Have not some of you had this very experience? Have you not
resisted some truth until it has ceased to affect your minds? If so, then you may
conclude that you in that case quenched the Spirit of God.
- 2. The Spirit is often quenched by endeavoring
to support error.
- Men are sometimes foolish enough to attempt by
argument to support a position which they have good reason to know is a false one.
They argue it till they get committed; they indulge in a dishonest state of mind;
thus they quench the Spirit, and are usually left to believe the very lie which they
so unwisely attempted to advocate. Many such cases have I seen where men began to
defend and maintain a position known to be false, and kept on till they quenched
the Spirit of God -- believed their own lie, and, it is to be feared, will die under
- 3. By uncharitable judgments. Perhaps nothing
more certainly quenches the Spirit than to impeach the motives of others and judge
them uncharitably. It is so unlike God, and so hostile to the law of love, no wonder
the Spirit of God is utterly averse to it, and turns away from those who indulge
- 4. The Spirit. is grieved by harsh and vituperative
language. How often do persons grieve the Spirit of God by using such language toward
those who differ from them. It is always safe to presume that persons who indulge
such a temper have already grieved the Spirit of God utterly away.
- 5. The Spirit of God is quenched by a bad temper.
When a bad temper and spirit are stirred up in individuals or in a community, who
has not seen how suddenly a revival of religion ceases -- the Spirit of God is put
down and quenched; there is no more prevailing prayer and no more sinners are converted.
- 6. Often the Spirit is quenched by diverting the
attention from the truth. Since the Spirit operates through the truth, it is most
obvious that we must attend to this truth which the Spirit would keep before our
minds. If we refuse to attend, as we always can if we choose to do so, we shall almost
certainly quench the Holy Spirit.
- 7. We often quench the Spirit by indulging intemperate
excitement on any subject. If the subject is foreign from practical, divine truth,
strong excitement diverts attention from such truth and renders it almost impossible
to feel its power. While the mind sees and feels keenly on the subject in which it
is excited, it sees dimly and feels but coldly on the vital things of salvation.
Hence the Spirit is quenched. But the intemperate excitement may be on some topic
really religious. Sometimes I have seen a burst -- a real tornado of feeling in a
revival; but in such cases, truth loses its hold on the minds of the people; they
are too much excited to take sober views of the truth and of the moral duties it
inculcates. Not all religious excitement, however, is to be condemned. By no means.
There must be excitement enough to arouse the mind to serious thought -- enough to
give the truth edge and power; but it is always well to avoid that measure of excitement
which throws the mind from its balance and renders its perceptions of truth obscure
- 8. The Spirit is quenched by indulging prejudice.
Whenever the mind is made up on any subject before it is thoroughly canvassed, that
mind is shut against the truth and the Spirit is quenched. When there is great prejudice
it seems impossible for the Spirit to act, and of course His influence is quenched.
The mind is so committed that it resists the first efforts of the Spirit.
- Thus have thousands done. Thus thousands ruin
their souls for eternity.
Therefore let every man keep his mind open to conviction and be sure to examine carefully
all important questions, and especially all such as involve great questions of duty
to God and man.
I am saying nothing now against being firm in maintaining your position after you
thoroughly understand it and are sure it is the truth. But while pursuing your investigations,
be sure you are really candid and yield your mind to all the reasonable evidence
you can find.
- 9. The Spirit is often quenched by violating conscience.
There are circumstances under which to violate conscience seems to quench the light
of God in the soul forever. Perhaps you have seen cases of this sort -- where persons
have had a very tender conscience on some subject, but all at once they come to have
no conscience at all on that subject. I am aware that change of conduct sometimes
results from change of views without any violation of conscience; but the case I
speak of is where the conscience seems to be killed. All that remains of it seems
hard as a stone.
- I have sometimes thought the Spirit of God had
much more to do with conscience than we usually suppose. The fact is undeniable that
men sometimes experience very great and sudden changes in the amount of sensibility
of conscience which they feel on some subjects. How is this to be accounted for?
Only by the supposition that the Spirit has power to arouse the conscience and make
it pierce like an arrow; and then when men, notwithstanding the reproaches of conscience,
will sin, the Spirit is quenched; the conscience loses all its sensibility; an entire
change takes place, and the man goes on to sin as if he never had any conscience
to forbid it.
It sometimes happens that the mind is awakened just on the eve of committing some
particular sin. Perhaps something seems to say to him -- If you do this you will
be forsaken of God. A strange presentiment forewarns him to desist. Now if he goes
on the whole mind receives a dreadful shock; the very eyes of the mind seem to be
almost put out: the moral perceptions are strangely deranged and beclouded; a fatal
violence is done to the conscience on that particular subject at least, and indeed
the injury to the conscience seems to affect all departments of moral action. In
such circumstances the Spirit of God seems to turn away and say "I can do no
more for you; I have warned you faithfully and can warn you no more."
All these results sometimes accrue from neglect of plainly revealed duty. Men shrink
from known duty through fear of the opinions of others, or through dislike of some
self-denial. In this crisis of trial the Spirit does not leave them in a state of
doubt or inattention as to duty, but keeps the truth and the claims of God vividly
before the mind. Then if men go on and commit the sin despite of the Spirit's warnings,
the soul is left in awful darkness -- the light of the Spirit of God is quenched
I know not in how many cases I have seen persons in great agony and even despair
who had evidently quenched the Spirit in the manner just described. Many of you may
know the case of a young man who has been here. He had a long trial on the question
of preparing himself for the ministry. He balanced the question for a long time,
the claims of God being clearly set before him; but at last resisting the convictions
of duty, he went off and got married, and turned away from the work to which God
seemed to call him. Then the Spirit left him. For some few years he remained entirely
hardened as to what he had done and as to any claims of God upon him, but finally
his wife sickened and died. Then his eyes were opened; he saw what he had done. He
sought the Lord, but sought in vain. No light returned to his darkened, desolate
soul. It no longer seemed his duty to prepare for the ministry; that call of God
had ceased. His cup of wretchedness seemed to be filled to the brim. Often he spent
whole nights in most intense agony, groaning, crying for mercy, or musing in anguish
upon the dire despair that spread its universe of desolation all around him. I have
often feared be would take his own life, so perfectly wretched was he under these
reproaches of a guilty conscience and these thoughts of deep despair.
I might mention many other similar cases. Men refuse to do known duty, and this refusal
does fatal violence to their own moral sense and to the Spirit of the Lord, and consequently
there remains for them only a "certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery
- 10. Persons often quench the Spirit by indulging
their appetites and passions. You would be astonished if you were to know how often
the Spirit is grieved by this means until a crisis is formed of such a nature that
they seem to quench the light of God at once from their souls. Some persons indulge
their appetite for food to the injury of their health, and though they know they
are injuring themselves, and the Spirit of God remonstrates and presses them hard
to desist from ruinous self-indulgence, yet they persist in their course -- are given
up of God, and henceforth their appetites lord it over them to the ruin of their
spirituality and of their souls. The same may be true of any form of sensual indulgence.
- 11. The Spirit is often quenched by indulging
in dishonesty. Men engaged in business will take little advantages in buying and
selling. Sometimes they are powerfully convinced of the great selfishness of this,
and see that this is by no means loving their neighbor as themselves. It may happen
that a man about to drive a good bargain will raise the question -- Is this right?
Will balance it long in his mind will say, "Now this neighbor of mine needs
this article very much, and will suffer if he does not get it; this will give me
a grand chance to put on a price; but then, would this be doing as I would be done
by?" He looks and thinks -- he sees duty, but finally decides in favor of his
selfishness. Eternity alone will disclose the consequences of such a decision. When
the Spirit of God has followed such persons a long time -- has made them see their
danger -- has kept the truth before them, and finally seizing the favorable moment,
makes a last effort and this proves unavailing -- the die is cast; thereafter all
restraints are gone, and the selfish man abandoned of God, goes on worse and worse,
to State's prison perhaps, and certainly to hell!
- 12. Often men quench the Spirit by casting off
fear and restraining prayer. Indeed, restraining prayer must always quench the Spirit.
It is wonderful to see how naturally and earnestly the Spirit leads us to pray. If
we were really led by the Spirit, we should be drawn many times a day to secret prayer,
and should be continually lifting up our hearts in silent ejaculations whenever the
mind unbends itself from other pressing occupations. The Spirit in the hearts of
saints is pre-eminently a spirit of prayer, and of course to restrain prayer must
always quench the Spirit.
- Some of you, perhaps, have been in this very case.
You have once had the spirit of prayer -- now you have none of it; you had access
to God -- now you have it no longer; you have no more enjoyment in prayer -- have
no groaning and agonizing over the state of the church and of sinners. And if this
spirit of prayer is gone, where are you now? Alas, you have quenched the Spirit of
God -- you have put out His light and repelled His influences from your soul.
- 13. The Spirit is quenched by idle conversation.
Few seem to be aware how wicked this is and how certainly it quenches the Holy Spirit.
Christ said "that for every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give
account thereof in the day of judgment."
- 14. Men quench the Holy Ghost by a spirit of levity
- Again by indulging a peevish and fretful spirit.
Also by a spirit of indolence. Many indulge in this to such an extent as altogether
to drive away the Holy Spirit.
Again by a spirit of procrastination, and by indulging themselves in making excuses
for neglect of duty. This is a sure way to quench the Spirit of God in the soul.
- 15. It is to be feared that many have quenched
the Spirit by resisting the doctrine and duty of sanctification.
- This subject has been for a few years past extensively
discussed; and the doctrine has also been extensively opposed. Several ecclesiastical
bodies have taken ground against it, and sometimes it is to be feared that members
have said and done what they would not by any means have said or done in their own
closets or pulpits. Is it not also probable that many ministers and some laymen have
been influenced by this very ecclesiastical action to oppose the doctrine -- the
fear of man thus becoming a snare to their souls? May it not also be the case that
some have opposed the doctrine really because it raises a higher standard of personal
holiness than they like -- too high, perhaps, to permit them to hope as Christians,
too high for their experience, and too high to suit their tastes and habits for future
life? Now who does not see that opposition to the doctrine and duty of sanctification
on any such grounds must certainly and fatally quench the Holy Spirit? No work can
lie more near the heart of Jesus than the sanctification of His people. Hence nothing
can so greatly grieve Him as to see this work impeded -- much more to see it opposed
A solemn and awful emphasis is given to these considerations when you contemplate
the facts respecting the prevalent state of piety in very many churches throughout
the land. You need not ask -- Are revivals enjoyed -- are Christians prayerful, self-denying,
alive in faith and in love to God and to man? You need not ask if the work of sanctifying
the Church is moving on apace, and manifesting itself by abounding fruits of righteousness;
the answer meets you before you can well frame the question.
Alas, that the Spirit should be quenched under the diffusion of the very truth which
ought to sanctify the Church! What can save if Gospel promise in all its fullness
is so perverted or resisted as to quench the Spirit and thus serve only to harden
V. I am lastly to speak of the consequences
of quenching the Holy Spirit.
- 1. Great darkness of mind. Abandoned of God, the
mind sees truth so dimly that it makes no useful impression. Such persons read the
Bible without interest or profit. It becomes to them a dead-letter, and they generally
lay it aside unless some controversy leads them to search it. They take no such spiritual
interest in it as makes its perusal delightful.
- Have not some of you been in this very state of
mind? This is that darkness of nature which is common to men, when the Spirit of
God is withdrawn.
- 2. There usually results great coldness and stupidity
in regard to religion generally. It leaves to the mind no such interest in spiritual
things as men take in worldly things.
- Persons often get into such a state that they
are greatly interested in some worldly matters, but not in spiritual religion. Their
souls are all awake while worldly things are the subject; but suggest some spiritual
subject, and their interest is gone at once. You can scarcely get them to attend
a prayer-meeting. They are in a worldly state of mind you may know, for if the Spirit
of the Lord was with them, they would be more deeply interested in religious services
than in anything else.
But now, mark them. Get up a political meeting or a theatrical exhibition and their
souls are all on fire; but go and appoint a prayer-meeting or a meeting to promote
a revival, and they are not there; or if there, they feel no interest in the object.
Such persons often seem not to know themselves. They perhaps think they attend to
these worldly things, only for the glory of God; I will believe this when I see them
interested in spiritual things as much.
When a man has quenched the Spirit of God his religion is all outside. His vital,
heart-affecting interest in spiritual things is gone.
It is indeed true that a spiritual man will take some interest in worldly things
because he regards them as a part of his duty to God, and to him they are spiritual
- 3. The mind falls very naturally into diverse
errors in religion. The heart wanders from God, loses its hold on the truth, and
perhaps the man insists that he now takes a much more liberal and enlightened view
of the subject than before.
- A short time since, I had a conversation with
a man who had given up the idea that the Old Testament was inspired -- had given
up the doctrine of the atonement, and indeed every distinctive doctrine of the Bible.
He remarked to me, "I used to think as you do; but I have now come to take a
more liberal and enlightened view of the subject." Indeed! this a more liberal
and enlightened view! So blinded as not to see that Christ sanctioned the Old Testament
as the oracles of God, and yet he flatters himself that he now takes a more liberal
and enlightened view! There can be nothing stronger than Christ's affirmations respecting
the inspiration of the Old Testament; and yet this man admits these affirmations
to be true and yet denies the very thing they affirm! Most liberal and enlightened
How can you possibly account for such views except on the ground that for some reason
the man has fallen into a strange, unnatural state of mind -- a sort of mental fatuity
in which moral truths are beclouded or distorted?
Everybody knows that there can not be a greater absurdity than to admit the divine
authority of the teachings of Christ and yet reject the Old Testament. The language
of Christ affirms and implies the authority of the Old Testament in all those ways
in which, on the supposition that the Old Testament is inspired, He might be expected
to affirm and imply this fact.
The Old Testament does not indeed exhaust divine revelation; it left more things
to be revealed. Christ taught much, but nothing more clearly than the divine authority
of the Old Testament.
- 4. Quenching the Spirit often results in infidelity.
What can account for such a case as that I have just mentioned, unless this -- that
God has left the mind to fall into very great darkness?
- 5. Another result is great hardness of heart.
The mind becomes callous to all that class of truths which make it yielding and tender.
The mobility of the heart under truth depends entirely upon its moral hardness. If
very hard, truth makes no impression; if soft, then it is yielding as air, and moves
quick to the touch of truth in any direction.
- 6. Another result is deep delusion in regard to
their spiritual state. How remarkable that persons will claim to be Christians when
they have rejected every distinctive doctrine of Christianity. Indeed, such persons
do sometimes claim that by thus rejecting almost the whole of the Bible, and all
its great scheme of salvation by an atonement, they have become real Christians.
Now they have got the true light. Indeed!
- How can such a delusion be accounted for except
on the ground that the Spirit of God has abandoned the man to his own ways and left
him to utter and perfect delusion?
- 7. Persons in this state often justify themselves
in most manifest wrong, because they put darkness for light and light for darkness.
They intrench themselves in perfectly false principles, as if those principles were
true and could amply justify their misdeeds.
- 1. Persons often are not aware what is going on
in their minds when they are quenching the Spirit of God. Duty is presented and pressed
upon them, but they do not realize that this is really the work of the Spirit of
God. They are not aware of the present voice of the Lord to their hearts, nor do
they see that this solemn impression of the truth is nothing other than the effect
of the Holy Ghost on their minds.
- 2. So when they come to take different views and
to abandon their former opinions, they seem not conscious of the fact that God has
departed from them. They flatter themselves that they have become very liberal and
very much enlightened withal, and have only given up their former errors. Alas, they
do not see that the light they now walk in is darkness -- all sheer darkness! "Woe
to them who put light for darkness and darkness for light!"
- You see how to account for the spiritual state
of some persons. Without the clue which this subject affords, you might be much misled.
In the case just described, suppose that I had taken it for granted that this man
was in truth taking a more rational and liberal view; I should have been misguided
- 3. I have good reason to know how persons become
Unitarians and Universalists, having seen at least some hundreds of instances. It
is not by becoming more and more men of prayer and real spirituality -- not by getting
nearer and nearer to God; they do not go on progressing in holiness, prayer, communion
with God, until in their high attainments they reach a point where they deny the
inspiration of the Bible, give up public prayer, the ordinances of the Gospel, and
probably secret prayer along with the rest. Those who give up these things are not
led away while wrestling in prayer and while walking humbly and closely with God;
no man ever got away from orthodox views while in this state of mind. But men first
get away from God and quench His Spirit; then embrace one error after another; truth
falls out of the mind and we might almost say truthfulness itself, or those qualities
or moral attributes which capacitate the mind to discern and apprehend the truth;
and then darkness becomes so universal and so deceptive, that men suppose themselves
to be wholly in the light.
- 4. Such a state of mind is most deplorable and
often hopeless. What can be done when a man has grieved the Spirit of God away?
- 5. When an individual or a people have quenched
the Spirit, they are in the utmost danger of being given up to some delusion that
will bring them by a short route to destruction.
- 6. They take entirely false ground who maintain
that if a religious movement is the work of God, it can not be resisted. For example,
I have often seen cases where persons would stop a revival, and then say, "It
was not a real revival, for if it had been it would not have stopped."
- Let a man adopt the opinion that he can not stop
the work of God in his own soul; nothing can be more perilous. Let a people adopt
the notion that revivals come and go without our agency and by the agency of God
only, and it will bring perfect ruin on them. There never was a revival that could
exist three days under such a delusion. The solemn truth is that the Spirit is most
easily quenched. There is no moral work of His that can not be resisted.
- 7. An immense responsibility pertains to revivals.
There is always fearful danger lest the Spirit should be resisted.
- So when the Spirit is with an individual, there
is the greatest danger lest something be said, ruinous to the soul.
Many persons here are in the greatest danger. The Spirit often labors with sinners
here, and many have grieved away...
- 8. Many seem not to realize the nature of the
Spirit's operations, the possibility always of resisting, and the great danger of
quenching that light of God in the soul.
- How many young men could I name here, once thoughtful,
now stupid. Where are those young men who were so serious, and who attended the inquiry
meeting so long in our last revival? Alas, have they quenched the Holy Spirit?
Is not this the case with you, young man? with you, young woman? Have not you quenched
the Spirit until now your mind is darkened and your heart woefully hardened? How
long ere the death-knell shall toll over you and your soul go down to hell? How long
before you will lose your hold on all truth and the Spirit will have left you utterly?
But let me bring this appeal home to the hearts
of those who have not yet utterly quenched the light of God in the soul. Do you find
that truth still takes hold of your conscience -- that God's word flashes on your
mind -- that heaven's light is not yet utterly extinguished, and there is still a
quivering of conscience? You hear of a sudden death, like that of the young man the
other day, and trembling seizes your soul, for you know that another blow may single
out you. Then by all the mercies of God I beseech you take care what you do. Quench
not the Holy Ghost, lest your sun go down in everlasting darkness. Just as you may
have seen the sun set when it dipped into a dark, terrific, portentous thunder-cloud.
So a benighted sinner dies! Have you ever seen such a death? Dying, he seemed to
sink into an awful cloud of fire and storm and darkness. The scene was fearful, like
a sun-setting of storms, and gathering clouds, and rolling thunders, and forked lightnings.
The clouds gather low in the west; the spirit of storm rides on the blast; belching
thunders seem as if they would cleave the solid earth; behind such a fearful cloud
the sun drops, and all is darkness! So have I seen a sinner give up the ghost and
drop into a world of storms, and howling tempests, and flashing fire.
O, how unlike the setting sun of a mild summer evening. All nature seems to put on
her sweetest smile as she bids the king of day adieu.
So dies the saint of God. There may be paleness on his lip and cold sweat on his
brow, but there is beauty in that eye and glory in the soul. I think of a woman just
converted, when she was taken sick -- brought down to the gates of death -- yet was
her soul full of heaven. Her voice was the music of angels; her countenance shone,
her eye sparkled as if the forms of heavenly glory were embodied in her dying features.
Nature at last sinks -- the moment of death has come; she stretches out her dying
hands and hails the waiting spirit-throng. "Glory to God!" she cries; "I
am coming! I am coming!" Not going -- observe -- she did not say, "I am
going," but, "I am coming!"
But right over against this, look at the sinner dying. A frightful glare is on his
countenance as if he saw ten thousand demons! As if the setting sun should go down
into an ocean of storms -- to be lost in a world charged with tornadoes, storms,
Young man, you will die just so if you quench the Spirit of God. Jesus Himself has
said, "If ye will not believe, ye shall die in your sins." Beyond such
a death, there is an awful hell.
CHAPTERS 1-7 of page 1 ---New Window
CHAPTERS 8-15 of page 2 (this page)
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
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