SERMONS ON GOSPEL THEMES
|SERMON XVI||- The Spirit Not Always Striving|
|SERMON XVII||- Christ Our Advocate|
|SERMON XVIII||- God's Love Commended To Us|
|SERMON XIX||- Prayer And Labor For The Gathering Of The Great Harvest|
|SERMON XX||- Converting Sinners A Christian Duty|
|SERMON XXI||- Men Often Highly Esteem What God Abhors|
|SERMON XXII||- Victory Over The World Through Faith|
|SERMON XXIII||- Death To Sin Through Christ|
|SERMON XXIV||- The Essential Elements Of Christian Experience|
IN speaking from this text I shall pursue the following
outline of thought, and attempt to show:
I. What is implied in the assertion, My Spirit shall not always strive with man;
II. What is not intended by the Spirit's striving;
III. What is intended by it;
IV. How it may be known when the Spirit strives with an individual;
V. What is intended by His not striving always;
VI. Why He will not always strive; and,
VII. Some consequences of His ceasing to strive with men.
I. What is implied in the assertion, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man?"
II. What is not intended by the Spirit's striving.
Here the main thing to be observed is that it is not any form of physical struggling or effort whatever. It is not any force applied to our bodies. It does not attempt to urge us literally along toward God or heaven. This is not to be thought of at all.
III. What, then, is the striving of the Spirit?
I answer, it is an energy of God, applied to the mind of man, setting truth before his mind, debating, reasoning, convincing, and persuading. The sinner resists God's claims, cavils and argues against them; and then God, by His Spirit, meets the sinner and debates with him, somewhat as two men might debate and argue with each other. You are not, however, to understand that the Holy Ghost does this with an audible voice, to the human ear, but He speaks to the mind and to the heart. The inner ear of the soul can hear its whispers.
Our Saviour taught that when the Comforter should come He would "reprove the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment." (John xvi. 7-11.) The term here rendered "reprove" refers, in its proper sense, to judicial proceedings. When the judge has heard all the testimony and the arguments of counsel, he sums up the whole case and lays it before the jury, bringing out all the strong points and making them bear with all their condensed and accumulated power upon the condemnation of the criminal. This is reproving him in the original and legitimate sense of the word used here by our Saviour. Thus the Holy Ghost reproves the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Thus does the Spirit convince or convict the sinner by testimony, by argument, by arraying all the strong points of the case against him under circumstances of affecting solemnity and power.
IV. How may it be known when the Spirit of God strives with an individual?
Not by direct perception of His agency, through any of your physical senses; for His presence is not manifested to these organs. Not directly by our consciousness; for the only proper subjects of consciousness are the acts and states of our own minds. But we know the presence and agency of the Spirit by His works. The results He produces are the legitimate proofs of His presence. Thus a person under the Spirit's influence, finds his attention arrested to the great concerns of his soul. The solemn questions of duty and responsibility to God are continually intruding themselves upon his mind. If he is a student over his lesson, his mind is drawn away continually, ere he is aware, to think of God and of the judgment to come. He turns his attention back to his books, but soon it is off again. How can he neglect these matters of infinite moment to his future well-being?
So with men of every calling; the Spirit of God turns the mind, and draws it to God and the concerns of the soul. When such results take place, you may know that the Spirit of God is the cause. For who does not know that this drawing and inclining of the mind toward God is by no means natural to the human heart? When it does occur, therefore, we may know that the special agency of God is in it.
Again, when a man finds himself convinced of sin, he may know that this is the Spirit's work. Now it is one thing to know one's self to be a sinner, and quite another to feel a realizing sense of it, and to have the truth take hold mightily of the deepest sensibilities of the soul. The latter sometimes takes place. You may see the man's countenance fallen, his eye downcast, his whole aspect is as if he had disgraced himself by some foul crime, or as if he had suddenly lost all the friends he ever had. I have often met with impenitent sinners who looked condemned, as if conscious guilt had taken hold of their inmost soul. They would not be aware that they were revealing in their countenances the deep workings of their hearts, but the observing eye could not help seeing it. I have also seen the same among backslidden professors, resulting from the same cause -- the Spirit of God reproving them of sin.
Sometimes this conviction is of a general and sometimes of a more special nature. It may enforce only the general impression, "I am all wrong; I am utterly odious and hateful to God; my whole heart is a sink of abomination in His sight;" or in other cases it may seize upon some particular form of sin, and hold it up before the sinner's mind, and make him see his infinite odiousness before God for this sin. It may be a sin he has never thought of before, or he may have deemed it a very light matter; but now, through the Spirit, it shall rise up before his mind, in such features of ugliness and loathsomeness, that he will abhor himself. He sees sin in a perfectly new light. Many things are sins now which he never deemed sins before.
Again, the Spirit not only convinces of the fact that such and such things are sins, but convicts the mind of the great guilt and ill-desert of sin. The sinner is made to feel that his sin deserves the direst damnation.
The case of an infidel of my acquaintance may serve to illustrate this. He had lived in succession with two pious wives; had read almost every book then extant on the inspiration of the Scriptures -- had disputed, and caviled, and often thought himself to have triumphed over believers in the Bible, and in fact he was the most subtle infidel I ever saw. It was remarkable that in connection with his infidelity he had no just views of sin. He had indeed heard much about some dreadful depravity which had come down in the current of human blood from Adam, and was itself a physical thing; but as usual he had no oppressive consciousness of guilt for having his share of this original taint. His mind consequently was quite easy in respect to the guilt of his own sin.
But at length a change came over him, and his eyes were opened to see the horrible enormity of his guilt. I saw him one day so borne down with sin and shame that he could not look up. He bowed his head upon his knees, covered his face, and groaned in agony. In this state I left him and went to the prayer-meeting. Ere long he came into the meeting as he never came before. As he left the meeting he said to his wife, "You have long known me as a strong-hearted infidel; but my infidelity is all gone. I can not tell you what has become of it -- it all seems to me as the merest nonsense. I can not conceive how I could ever have believed and defended it. I seem to myself like a man called to view some glorious and beautiful structure, in order to pass his judgment upon it; but who presumes to judge and condemn it after having caught only a dim glimpse of one obscure corner. Just so have I done in condemning the glorious Bible and the glorious government of God."
Now the secret of all this change in his mind towards the Bible lay in the change of his views as to his own sin. Before, he had not been convicted of sin at all; now he sees it in some of its true light, and really feels that he deserves the deepest hell. Of course he now sees the pertinence and beauty and glory of the Gospel system. He is now in a position in which he can see clearly one of the strongest proofs of the truth of the Bible -- namely, its perfect adaptation to meet the wants of a sinning race.
It is remarkable to see what power there is in conviction for sin to break up and annihilate the delusions of error. For instance, no man can once thoroughly see his own sin, and remain a Universalist, and deem it unjust for God to send him to hell. When I hear a man talking in defence of Universalism, I know he does not understand anything about sin. He has not begun to see his own guilt in its true light. It is the blindest of all mental infatuations to think that the little inconveniences of this life are all that sin deserves. Let a man once see his own guilt, and he will be amazed to think that he ever held such a notion. The Spirit of God, pouring light upon the sinner's mind, will soon use up Universalism.
I once labored in a village in the State of New York where Universalism prevailed extensively. The leading man among them had a sick wife who sympathized with him in sentiment. She being near death, I called to see her, and endeavored to expose the utter fallacy of her delusion. After I had left, her husband returned, and his wife, her eyes being now opened, cried out to him as he entered, "O my dear husband, you are in the way to hell -- your Universalism will ruin your soul forever!" He was greatly enraged, and learning that I had been talking with her, his rage was kindled against me. "Where is he now?" said he. "Gone to the meeting," was the reply. "I'll go there and shoot him," he cried; and seizing his loaded pistol, as I was informed, he started off. When he came in I was preaching, I think, from the text "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" I knew at the time nothing about his purpose -- nothing about his pistol. He listened awhile, and then all at once, in the midst of the meeting, he fell back on his seat, and cried out, "O I am sinking to hell! O, God, have mercy on me." Away went his Universalism in a twinkling; he sees his sin, and now he is sinking to hell. This change in him was not my work, for I could produce no such effects as these. I was indeed trying to show from my text what sinners deserve; but the Spirit of God, and nothing less, could set home conviction of sin after this sort.
Again, another fruit of the Spirit is developed in the case of those persons who are conscious of great hardness and insensibility. It not infrequently happens that men suppose themselves to be Christians because they have so much sensibility on religious subjects. To undeceive them, the Spirit directs their attention to some truth that dries up all their sensibility, and leaves their hopes stranded on the sea-beach. Now they are in great agony. "The more I hear," say they, "the less I feel. I was never in the world so far from being convicted of sin. I shall certainly go to hell. I have not a particle of feeling. I can not feel if I die."
Now the explanation of this singular state is usually this: The Spirit of God sees their danger -- sees them deceiving themselves by relying on their feelings, and therefore brings some truths before their minds which array the opposition of their hearts against God and dry up the fountains of their sensibility. Then they see how perfectly callous their hearts are toward God. This is the work of the Spirit.
Again, the Spirit convicts the soul of the guilt of unbelief. Sinners are very apt to suppose that they do believe the Gospel. They confound faith with a merely intellectual assent, and so blind themselves as to suppose that they believe God in the sense of Gospel faith.
But let the Spirit once reveal their own hearts to them and they will see that they do not believe in God as they believe in their fellow-men, and that instead of having confidence in God and resting on His words of promise as they do on men's promises, they do not rest on God at all, but are full of anxiety lest God should fail to fulfill His own words. They see that instead of being childlike and trustful, they are full of trouble, and solicitude, and in fact of unbelief. And they see, also, that this is a horribly guilty state of heart. They see the guilt of not resting in His promises -- the horrible guilt of not believing with the heart every word God ever uttered.
Now this change is the work of the Spirit. Our Saviour mentions it as one of the effects wrought by the Spirit, that He shall "reprove the world of sin, because they believe not on me." And in fact we find that this is one of the characteristic works of the Spirit. In conversing recently with a man who has been for many years a professor of religion, but living in the seventh chapter to the Romans, he remarked "I have been thinking of this truth, that God cares for me and loves me, and has through Jesus Christ offered me eternal life; and now I deserve to be damned if I do not believe." Stretching out his pale hand, he said with great energy, "I ought to go to hell if I will not believe." Now all this is the work of the Spirit -- this making a man see the guilt and hello desert of unbelief -- this making a sinner see that everything else is only straw compared with the eternal rock of God's truth.
Again, the Spirit makes men see the danger of dying in their sins. Said a young man, "I am afraid to go to sleep at night, lest I should awake in hell." Sinners often know what this feeling is. I recollect having this thought once impressed upon my mind, and so much agonized was I, that I almost thought myself to be dying on the spot! O, I can never express the terror and the agony of my soul in that hour! Sinner, if you have these feelings, it is a solemn time with you.
Moreover, the Spirit makes sinners feel the danger of being given up of God. Often does it happen that sinners, convicted by the Spirit, are made to feel that if they are not given up already, they are in the most imminent peril of it, and must rush for the gate of life now or never. They see that they have so sinned and have done so much to provoke God to give them over, that their last hope of being accepted is fast dying away. Sinners, have any of you ever felt thus? Have you ever trembled in your very soul lest you should be given over to a reprobate mind before another Sabbath, or perhaps before another morning? If so, you may ascribe this to the Spirit of God.
Yet further: the Spirit often convicts sinners of the great blindness of their minds. it seems to them that their minds are full of solid darkness, as it were a darkness that may be felt.
Now this is really the natural state of the sinner, but he is not sensible of it until enlightened by the Spirit of God. When thus enlightened, he begins to appreciate his own exceeding great blindness. He now becomes aware that the Bible is a sealed book to him -- for he finds that though he reads it, its meaning is involved in impenetrable darkness.
Have not some of you been conscious of such an experience as this? Have you not read the Bible with the distressing consciousness that your mind was by no means suitably affected by its truth -- indeed, with the conviction that you did not get hold of its truth to any good purpose at all? Thus are men enlightened by the Spirit to see the real state of their case.
Again, the Spirit shows sinners their total alienation from God. I have seen sinners so strongly convicted of this, that they would say right out: "I know that I have not the least disposition to return to God -- I am conscious that I don't care whether I have any religion or not."
Often have I seen professed Christians in this state, conscious that their hearts are utterly alienated from God and from all sympathy with His character or government. Their deep backslidings, or their utter want of all religion, has been so revealed to their minds by the Spirit, as to become a matter of most distinct and impressive consciousness.
Sinners thus made to see themselves by the Spirit, often find that when they pour out their words before God for prayer, their heart won't go. I once said to a sinner, "Come, now, give up your heart to God." "I will," said he; but in a moment he broke out, "My heart won't go." Have not some of you been compelled to say the same, "My heart won't go?" Then you know by experience one of the fruits of the Spirit's convicting power.
When the Spirit of God is not with men, they can dole out their long prayers before God and never think or seem to care how prayerless their hearts are all the time, and how utterly far from God. But when the Spirit sheds His light on the soul, the sinner sees how black a hypocrite he is. Oh, then he cannot pray so smoothly, so loosely, so self-complacently.
Again, the Spirit of God often convinces men that they are ashamed of Christ, and that in truth they do not wish for religion. It sometimes happens that sinners do not feel ashamed of being thought seriously disposed, until they come to be convicted. Such was the case with myself. I bought my first Bible as a law-book, and laid it by the side of my Blackstone. I studied it as I would any other law-book, my sole object being to find in it the great principles of law. Then I never once thought of being ashamed of reading it. I read it as freely and as openly as I read any other book. But as soon as I became awakened to the concerns of my soul, I put my Bible out of sight. If it were lying on my table when persons came into my office, I was careful to throw a newspaper over it. Ere long, however, the conviction that I was ashamed of God and of His word came over me with overwhelming force, and served to show me the horrible state of my mind toward God. And I suppose that the general course of my experience is by no means uncommon among impenitent sinners.
The Spirit also convicts men of worldly-mindedness. Sinners are always in this state of mind; but are often not fully aware of the fact until the Spirit of God makes them see it. I have often seen men pushing their worldly projects most intensely, but when addressed on the subject they would say, "I don't care much about the world; I am pursuing this business just now chiefly because I want to be doing something;" but when the Spirit shows them their own hearts, they are in agony lest they should never be able to break away from the dreadful power of the world upon their souls. Now they see that they have been the veriest slaves on earth -- slaves to the passion for worldly good.
Again, the Holy Spirit often makes such a personal application of the truth as to fasten the impression that the preacher is personal and intends to describe the case and character of him who is the subject of his influence. The individual thus convinced of sin may think that the preacher has, in some way, come to a knowledge of his character, and intends to describe it, that the preacher means him, and is preaching to him. He wonders who has told the preacher so much about him. All this often takes place when the preacher perhaps does not know that such an one is in the assembly, and is altogether ignorant of his history. Thus the Holy Spirit who knows his heart and his entire history becomes very personal in the application of truth.
Have any of you this experience? Has it at present or at any other time appeared to you as if the preacher meant you, and that he was describing your case? Then the Spirit of the living God is upon you. I have often seen individuals drop their heads under preaching almost as if they were shot through. They were, perhaps, unable to look up again during the whole service. Afterwards I have often heard that they thought I meant them, and that others thought so too, and perhaps imagined that many eyes were turned on them, and that therefore they did not look up, when in fact neither myself nor any one in the congregation, in all probability, so much as thought of them.
Thus a bow drawn at a venture often lodges an arrow between the joints of the sinner's coat of mail. Sinner, is it so with you?
Again, the Holy Spirit often convinces sinners of the enmity of their hearts against God. Most impenitent sinners, and perhaps all deceived professors, unless convinced to the contrary by the Holy Spirit, imagine that they are on the whole friendly to God. They are far from believing that this carnal mind is enmity against God. They think they do not hate, but, on the contrary, that they love God. Now this delusion must be torn away or they must be lost. To do this, the Spirit so orders it that some truths are presented which develop their real enmity against God. The moralist who has been the almost Christian, or the deceived professor, begins to cavil, to find fault, finally to rail, to oppose the preaching and the meetings and the measures and the men. The man perhaps who has a pious wife and who has thought himself and has been thought by her to be almost a Christian, begins by caviling at the truth, finds fault with the measures and with the manners; then refuses to go to meeting, and finally forbids his wife and family going, and not infrequently his enmity of heart will boil over in a horrible manner. He perhaps has no thought that this boiling up of hell within him is occasioned by the Holy Spirit revealing to him the true state of his heart. His Christian friends also may mistake his case and be ready to conclude that something is wrong in the matter or manners or measures of the preacher that is doing this man a great injury. But beware what you say or do. In many such cases which have come under my own observation, it has turned out that the Holy Spirit was at work in those hearts, revealing to them their real enmity against God. This He does by presenting truth in such a manner and under such circumstances as to produce these results. He pushes this process until He compels the soul to see that it is filled with enmity to God, and to what is right; that yet it is not man, but God to whom he is opposed; that it is not error, but truth; not the manner, but the matter; not the measures, but the God of truth which it hates.
The Spirit, moreover, often convicts sinners powerfully of the deceitfulness of their own hearts. Sometimes this conviction becomes really appalling. They see they have been deluding themselves in matters too plain to justify any mistake, and too momentous to admit of any apology for willful blindness. They are confounded with what they see in themselves.
The Spirit also not infrequently strips the sinner of his excuses, and shows him clearly their great folly and absurdity. I recollect this was one of the first things in my experience in the process of conviction. I lost all confidence in any of my excuses, for I found them to be so foolish and futile that I could not endure them. This was my state of mind before I had ever heard of the work of the Spirit, or knew at all how to judge whether my own mind was under its influence or not. I found that whereas I had been very strong in my excuses and objections, I was now utterly weak, and it seemed to me that any child could overthrow me. In fact, I did not need to be overthrown by anybody, for my excuses and cavils had sunk to nothing of themselves, and I was deeply ashamed of them. I had effectually worked myself out of all their mazes, so that they could bewilder me no longer. I have since seen multitudes in the same condition -- weak as to their excuses, their old defensive armor all torn off, and their hearts laid naked to the shafts of God's truth.
Now, sinners, have any of you known what this is -- to have all your excuses and apologies failing you -- to feel that you have no courage and no defensible reasons for pushing forward in a course of sin? If so, then you know what it is to be under the convicting power of the Spirit.
The Spirit convicts men of the folly of seeking salvation in any other way than through Christ alone. Often, without being aware of it, a sinner will be really seeking salvation in some other way than through Christ, and he will be looking to his good deeds -- to his own prayers, or the prayers of some Christian friends; but if the Spirit ever saves him, He will tear away these delusive schemes and show him the utter vanity of every other way than through Christ alone. The Spirit will show him that there is but this one way in which it is naturally possible for a sinner to be saved, and that all attempts toward any other way are forever vain and worse than worthless. All self-righteousness must be rejected entirely, and Christ be sought alone.
Have you ever been made to see this? You, who are professed Christians, is this your experience?
Again, the Spirit convinces men of the great folly and madness of clinging to an unsanctifying hope. The Bible teaches that every one who has the genuine Gospel hope purifies himself, even as Christ is pure. In this passage, the apostle John plainly means to affirm a universal proposition. He states a universal characteristic of the Christian hope. Whoever has a Christian hope should ask -- Do I purify myself even as Christ is pure? If not, then mine is not the true Gospel hope.
But let thousands of professed Christians have a most inefficient hope. What is it? Does it really lead them to purify themselves as Christ is pure? Nothing like it. It is not a hope that they shall see Christ as He is, and be forever with Him, and altogether like Him too, but it is mainly a hope that they shall escape hell, and go as an alternative to some unknown heaven.
Such professed Christians can not but know that their experience lacks the witness of their own consciences that they are living for God and bearing His image. If such are ever saved, they must first be convinced of the folly of a hope that leaves them unsanctified.
Ye professors of religion who have lived a worldly life so long, are you not ashamed of your hope? Have you not good reason to be ashamed of a hope that has no more power than yours has had? Are there not many in this house who in the honesty of their hearts must say, "Either there is no power in the Gospel, or I don't know anything about it?" For the Gospel affirms as a universal fact of all those who are not under the law, but under grace, "sin shall not have dominion over you." Now will you go before God and say, "Lord, Thou hast said, 'Sin shall not have dominion over you;' but, Lord, that is all false, for I believe the Gospel and am under grace, but sin still has dominion over me!" No doubt in this case there is a mistake somewhere; and it becomes you to ask solemnly -- Shall I charge this mistake and falsehood upon God, or shall I admit that it must be in myself alone?
The apostle Paul has said, "The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." Is it so to you?
He has also said, "Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Do you know this by your own experience? He adds also that we "rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience: and patience, experience: and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed: because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."
Is all this in accordance with your experience, professed Christian? Is it true that your hope makes not ashamed? Does it produce such glorious fruits unto holiness as are here described? If you were to try your experience by the word of the living God, and open your heart to be searched by the Spirit, would not you be convinced that you do not embrace the Gospel in reality?
Again, the Spirit convinces men that all their goodness is selfish; and that self is the end of all their efforts, of all their prayers and religious exercises. I once spent a little time in the family of a man who was a leading member in a Presbyterian Church. He said to me, "What should you think of a man who is praying for the Spirit every day, but does not get the blessing?" I answered, "I should presume that he is praying selfishly." "But suppose," replied he, "that he is praying for the sake of promoting his own happiness?" "He may be purely selfish in that," I replied; the "devil might do as much, and would, perhaps, do just the same if he supposed he could make himself happier by it." I then cited the prayer of David: "Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me: restore unto me the joys of Thy salvation: then will I teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto Thee." This seemed to be new doctrine to him, and he turned away, as I found afterwards, in great anger and trouble. In the first gush of feeling he prayed that God would cut him down and send him to hell, lest he should have to confess his sin and shame before all the people. He saw that, in fact, his past religion had been all selfish; but the dread of confessing this was at first appalling. He saw, however, the possibility of mistake, that his hopes had been all delusive, and that he had been working his self-deceived course fast down toward the depths of hell.
Finally, it is the Spirit's work to make self-deceived men feel that they are now having their last call from the Spirit. When this impression is made, let it by all means be heeded. It is God's own voice to the soul. Out of a great multitude of cases under my observation in which God has distinctly made sinners feel that the present was their last call, I do not recollect one in which it did not prove to be so. This is a truth of solemn moment to the sinner, and ought to make the warning voice of God ring in his ear like the forewarning knell of the second death.
V. What is intended by the Spirit's not striving always?
The meaning I take to be, not that He will at some period withdraw from among mankind, but that He will withdraw from the individual in question, or perhaps as in the text from a whole generation of sinners. In its general application now, the principle seems to be that the Spirit will not follow the sinner onward down to his grave -- that there will be a limit to His efforts in the case of each sinner, and that this limit is perhaps ordinarily reached a longer or a shorter time before death. At some uncertain, awful point, he will reach and pass it; and it therefore becomes every sinner to understand his peril of grieving the Spirit forever away.
VI. We, are next to inquire, WHY God's Spirit will not strive always.
I answer, not because God is not compassionate, forbearing, slow to anger and great in mercy; not because He gets out of patience and acts unreasonably -- by no means; nothing of this at all. But the reasons are
VII. Consequences of the Spirit's ceasing to strive with men.
While enlightened and pressed to duty by the Spirit,
sinners are under the most solemn circumstances that can ever occur in their whole
lives. Indeed, no period of the sinner's existence through its eternal duration can
be so momentous as this. Yes, sinner, while the Spirit of God is pleading and striving
with you, angels appreciate the solemnity of the hour -- they know that the destiny
of your soul is being decided for eternity. What an object of infinite interest!
An immortal mind on the pivot of its eternal destiny -- God debating and persuading
-- he resisting, and the struggle about to be broken off as hopeless forever. Suppose,
sinner, you could set yourself aside and could look on and be a spectator of such
a scene. Were you ever in a court of justice when the question of life and death
was about to be decided? The witnesses have all been heard -- the counsel have been
heard -- it is announced that the jury are ready to deliver their verdict. Now pause
and mark the scene. Note the anxiety depicted in every countenance, and how eagerly
and yet with what awful solemnity they wait for the decision about to be made; and
with good reason -- for a question of momentous interest is to be decided. But if
this question, involving only the temporal life, is so momentous, how much more so
is the sinner's case when the life of the soul for eternity is pending!! O how solemn
while the question still pends -- while the Spirit still strives, and still, the
sinner resists, and none can tell how soon the last moment of the Spirit's striving
This ought to be the most solemn world in the universe. In other worlds, the destinies of the souls are already fixed. It is so in hell. All there is fixed and changeless forever. It is a solemn thing indeed for a sinner to go to hell, but the most solemn point in the whole duration of his existence is that one in which the decision is made.
O what a world is this! Throughout all its years and centuries we can not see one moment on whose tender point, there hangs not a balancing of the question of eternal life or eternal death! And is this a place to trifle? This a place to be mad and foolish and vain? Ah, no! it were more reasonable to trifle in any other world than in this. The awful destinies of the soul are being determined here. Heaven sees it and hell too, and all are filled with solicitude, swelling almost to agony; but you who are the subjects of all this anxiety -- you can trifle and play the fool and dance on the brink of everlasting woe. The Psalmist says:
"I heard the wretch profanely boast,
Till at thy frown he fell;
His honors in a dream were lost,
And he awoke in hell."
God represents the sinner as on a slippery steep,
his feet just sliding on the very verge of an awful chasm -- God holding him up a
short moment, and he trifling away even this short moment in mad folly. All hearts
in heaven and in hell are beating and throbbing with intense emotion: but he can
be reckless! O what madness!
If sinners duly estimated this danger of resisting the Spirit, they would be more afraid of it than of anything else whatever. They would deem no other dangers worthy of a moment's thought or care compared with this.
Again, it is a very common thing for sinners to grieve away the Spirit long before death. So I believe, although some, I am aware, are greatly opposed to this doctrine. Do you doubt it? Think of almost the whole Jewish nation in the time of the Saviour, given up to unbelief and reprobacy, abandoned of the Spirit of God; yet they sinned against far less light and of course with much less guilt than sinners now do. If God could give them up then, why may He not do so with sinners now? If He could give up the whole population of the world in Noah's time when he alone stood forth a preacher of righteousness, why may He not give up individual sinners now who are incomparably more guilty than they, because they have sinned against greater light than had ever shone then? O it is infinitely cruel to sinners themselves to conceal from them this truth. Let them know that they are in peril of grieving away the Spirit beyond recall, long before they die. This truth ought to be proclaimed over all the earth. Let its echo ring out through every valley and over every mountain-top, the world around. Let every living sinner hear it and take the timely warning!
Again, we see why so few aged sinners are converted. The fact is striking and unquestionable. Take the age of sixty, and count the number converted past that age. You will find it small indeed. Few and scattered are they, like beacons on mountaintops, just barely enough to prevent the aged from utter despair of ever being converted. I am aware that infidels seize upon this fact to extort from it a cavil against religion, saying, "How does it happen that the aged and wise, whose minds are developed by thought and experience, and who have passed by the period of warm youthful passion, never embrace the Gospel?" They would fain have it, that none but children and women become religious, and that this is to be accounted for on the ground that the Christian religion rests on its appeal to the sensibilities, and not to the intelligence. But infidels make a most egregious mistake in this inference of theirs. The fact under consideration should be referred to an entirely different class of causes. The aged are converted but rarely, because they have grieved away the Spirit -- have become entangled in the mazes of some loved and soul-ruinous delusion, and hardened in sin past the moral possibility of being converted. Indeed, it would be unwise on the part of God to convert many sinners in old age; it would be too great a temptation for human nature to bear. At all the earlier periods of life, sinners would be looking forward to old age as the time for conversion.
I have already said what I wish here to repeat -- that it is an awfully interesting moment when God's Spirit strives with sinners. I have reason to know that the Spirit is striving with some of you. Even within the past week your attention has been solemnly arrested, and God has been calling upon you to repent. And now are you aware that while God is calling, you must listen -- that when He speaks, you should pause and give Him your attention? Does God call you away from your lesson, and are you replying -- O, I must, I must get my lesson? Ah, your lesson! and what is your first and chief lesson? "Prepare to meet thy God." But you say, "O the bell will toll in a few minutes, and I have not get my lesson!!" Yes, sinner, soon the great bell will toll -- unseen spirits will seize hold of the bell-rope and toll the dread death-knell of eternity, echoing the summons -- Come to judgment; and the bell will toll, toll, TOLL! and where, sinner, Will you be then! Are you prepared? Have you got that one great lesson, "Prepare to meet thy God?"
In the long elapsing ages of your lost doom you will be asked, how and why you came into this place of torment; and you will have to answer, "Oh, I was getting my lesson there in Oberlin when God came by His Spirit, and I could not stop to hear His call! So I exchanged my soul for my lesson! O what a fool was I!!"
Let me ask the people of God, Should you not be awake in such an hour as this? How many sinners during the past week have besought you to pray for their perishing souls? And have you no heart to pray? How full of critical interest and peril are these passing moments? Did you ever see the magnetic needle of the compass vacillate, quiver, quiver, and finally settle down fixed to its position? So with the sinner's destiny today.
Sinners, think of your destiny as being now about to assume its fixed position. Soon you will decide it forever and forever!
Do you say, Let me first go to my room, and there I will give myself up to God? No, sinner, no! go not away hence in your sin; for now is your accepted time -- now -- today, after so long a time -- now is the only hour of promise -- now is perhaps the last hour of the Spirit's presence and grace to your soul!
THE Bible abounds with governmental analogies.
These are designed for our instruction; but if we receive instruction from them,
it is because there is a real analogy in many points between the government of God
and human governments.
I propose to inquire,
I. What is an advocate?
What is the idea of an advocate when the term is used to express a governmental office or relation?
An advocate is one who pleads the cause of another; who represents another, and acts in his name; one who uses his influence in behalf of another by his request.
II. Purposes for which an advocate may he employed.
III. The sense in which Christ is the advocate
He is employed to plead the cause of sinners, not at the bar of justice; not to defend them against the charge of sin, because the question of their guilt is already settled. The Bible represents them as condemned already; and such is the fact, as every sinner knows. Every sinner in the world knows that he has sinned, and that consequently he must be condemned by the law of God. This office, then, is exercised by Christ in respect to sinners; not at the bar of justice, but at the throne of grace, at the footstool of sovereign mercy. He is employed, not to prevent the conviction of the sinner, but to prevent his execution; not to prevent his being condemned, but being already condemned, to prevent his being damned.
IV. What is implied in His being the Advocate of sinners.
V. The essential qualifications of an advocate under such circumstances.
VI. What His plea in behalf of sinners is.
WHAT is meant here by "commend?" To recommend;
to set forth in a clear and strong light.
Towards whom is this love exercised? Towards us -- towards all beings of our lost race. To each one of us He manifests this love. Is it not written, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life?"
How does He commend this love? By giving His Son to die for us. By giving one who was a Son and a Son well-beloved. It is written that God "gave Him a ransom for all;" and that "He tasted death for every man." We are not to suppose that He died for the sum total of mankind in such a sense that His death is not truly for each one in particular. It is a great mistake into which some fall, to suppose that Christ died for the race in general, and not for each one in particular. By this mistake, the Gospel is likely to lose much of its practical power on our hearts. We need to apprehend it as Paul did, who said of Jesus Christ, "He loved me and gave Himself for me." We need to make this personal application of Christ's death. No doubt this was the great secret of Paul's holy life, and of his great power in preaching the Gospel. So we are to regard Jesus as having loved us personally and individually. Let us consider how much pains God has taken to make us feel that He cares for us personally. It is so in His providence, and so also in His Gospel. He would fain make us single ourselves from the mass and feel that His loving eye and heart are upon us individually.
For what end does He commend His love to us? Is it an ambition to make a display? Surely there can be no affectation in this. God is infinitely above all affectation. He must from His very nature act honestly. Of course He must have some good reason for this manifestation of His love. No doubt He seeks to prove to us the reality of His love. Feeling the most perfect love towards our lost race, He deemed it best to reveal this love and make it manifest, both to us and to all His creatures. And what could evince His love, if this gift of His Son does not? Oh, how gloriously is love revealed in this great sacrifice! How this makes divine love stand out prominently before the universe! What else could He have done that would prove His love so effectually?
Again: He would show that His love is unselfish, for Jesus did not die for us as friends, but as enemies. It was while we were yet enemies that He died for us. On this point, Paul suggests that "scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man, some would even dare to die." But our race were far as possible from being good. Indeed, they were not even righteous, but were utterly wicked. For a very dear friend one might be willing to die. There have been soldiers who, to save the life of a beloved officer, have taken into their own bosom the shaft of death; but for one who is merely just and not so much as good, this sacrifice could scarcely be made. How much less for an enemy! Herein we may see how greatly "God commendeth His love to us, in that while we were yet enemies, Christ died for us." Notice yet further, that this love of God to us can not be the love of esteem or complacency, because there is in us no ground for such a love. It can be no other than the love of unselfish benevolence. This love had been called in question. Satan had questioned it in Eden. He made bold to insinuate, "Hath your God indeed said, Ye shall not eat of every tree in the garden?" Why should he wish to debar you from such a pleasure? So the old Serpent sought to cast suspicion on the benevolence of God. Hence there was the more reason why God should vindicate His love.
He would also commend the great strength of this love. We should think we gave evidence of strong love -- if we were to give our friend a great sum of money. But what is any sum of money compared with giving up a dear Son to die? Oh, surely it is surpassing love, beyond measure wonderful, that Jesus should not only labor and suffer, but should really die! Was ever love like this?
Again: God designed also to reveal the moral character of His love for men, and especially its justice. He could not show favors to the guilty until His government was made secure and His law was duly honored. Without this sacrifice, He knew it could not be safe to pardon. God must maintain the honor of His throne. He must show that He could never wink at sin. He felt the solemn necessity of giving a public rebuke of sin before the universe. This rebuke was the more expressive because Jesus Himself was sinless. Of course it must be seen that in His death God was not frowning on His sin, but on the sin of those whose sins He bore and in whose place He stood.
This shows God's abhorrence of sin since Jesus stood as our representative. While He stood in this position, God could not spare Him, but laid on Him the chastisement of our iniquities. Oh, what a rebuke of sin was that! How expressively did it show that God abhorred sin, yet loved the sinner! These were among the great objects in view -- to beget in our souls the two-fold conviction of His love for us and of our sin against Him. He would make those convictions strong and abiding. So He sets forth Jesus crucified before our eyes -- a far more expressive thing than any mere words. No saying that He loved us could approximate towards the strength and impressiveness of this manifestation. In no other way could He make it seem so much a reality -- so touching and so overpowering. Thus He commends it to our regard. Thus He invites us to look at it. He tells us angels desire to look into it. He would have us weigh this great fact, examine all its bearings, until it shall come full upon our souls with its power to save. He commends it to us to be reciprocated, as if He would incite us to love Him who has so loved us. Of course He would have us understand this love, and appreciate it, that we may requite it with responsive love in return. It is an example for us that we may love our enemies and, much more, our brethren. Oh, when this love has taken its effect on our hearts, how deeply do we feel that we can not hate any one for whom Christ died! Then instead of selfishly thrusting our neighbor off, and grasping the good to which his claim is fully as great as ours, we love him with a love so deep and so pure that it can not be in our heart to do him wrong.
It was thus a part of the divine purpose to show us what true love is. As one said in prayer, "We thank Thee, Father, that Thou hast given us Thy Son to teach us how to love." Yes, God would let us know that He Himself is love, and hence that if we would be His children, we too must love Him and love one another. He would reveal His love so as to draw us into sympathy with Himself and make us like Him. Do you not suppose that a thorough consideration of God's love, as manifested in Christ, does actually teach us what love is, and serve to draw our souls into such love? The question is often asked -- How shall I love? The answer is given in this example. Herein is love! Look at it and drink in its spirit. Man is prone to love himself supremely. But here is a totally different sort of love from that. This love commends itself in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. How forcibly does this rebuke our selfishness! How much we need this lesson, to subdue our narrow selfishness, and shame our unbelief!
How strange it is that men do not realize the love of God! The wife of a minister, who had herself labored in many revivals, said to me, "I never, till a few days since, knew that God is love." "What do you mean?" said I. "I mean that I never apprehended it in all its bearings before." Oh, I assure you, it is a great and blessed truth, and it is a great thing to see it as it is! When it becomes a reality to the soul, and you come under its powerful sympathy, then you will find the Gospel indeed the power of God unto salvation. Paul prayed for his Ephesian converts that they might "be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height; and to know the love of God that passeth knowledge, that they might be filled with all the fullness of God."
God sought, in thus commending His love to us, to subdue our slavish fear. Some one said, "When I was young, I was sensible of fearing God, but I knew I did not love Him. The instruction I received led me to fear, but not to love." So long as we think of God only as One to be feared, not to be loved, there will be a prejudice against Him as more an enemy than a friend. Every sinner knows that he deserves to be hated of God. He sees plainly that God must have good reason to be displeased with him. The selfish sinner judges God from himself. Knowing how he should feel toward one who had wronged him, he unconsciously infers that God must feel so toward every sinner. When he tries to pray, his heart won't; it is nothing but terror. He feels no attraction toward God, no real love. The child spirit comes before God, weeping indeed, but loving and trusting. Now the state of feeling which fears only, God would fain put away, and make us know that He loves us still. We must not regard Him as being altogether such as ourselves. He would undeceive us and make us realize that though He has "spoken against us, yet He does earnestly remember us still." He would have us interpret His dealings fairly and without prejudice. He sees how, when He thwarts men's plans, they are bent on misunderstanding Him. They will think that He is reckless of their welfare, and they are blind to the precious truth that He shapes all His ways toward them in love and kindness. He would lead us to judge thus, that if God spared not His own Son, but gave Him up freely for us all, then He will much more give us all things else most freely.
Yet again: He would lead us to serve Him in love and not in bondage. He would draw us forth into the liberty of the sons of God. He loves to see the obedience of the heart. He would inspire love enough to make all our service free and cheerful and full of joy. If you wish to make others love you, you must give them your love. Show your servants the love of your heart, so will you break their bondage, and make their service one of love. In this way God commends His love towards us in order to win our hearts to Himself, and thus get us ready and fit to dwell forever in His eternal home. His ultimate aim is to save us from our sins that He may fill us forever with His own joy and peace.
IN discussing this subject, I propose --
I. To consider to whom this precept is addressed,
II. What it means;
III. What is implied in the prayer required;
IV. Show that the state of mind which constitutes obedience to this precept is an indispensable condition of salvation.
I. To whom this precept is addressed.
Beyond question, the precept is addressed to all who are under obligation to be benevolent; therefore, to all classes and all beings upon whom the law of love is imposed. Consequently, it is addressed to all human beings, for all who are human bear moral responsibility -- ought to care for the souls of their fellows, and of course fall under the broad sweep of this requisition.
Note the occasion of Christ's remark. He was traversing the cities and villages of His country, "teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." He saw multitudes before Him, mostly in great ignorance of God and salvation; and His deeply compassionate heart was moved, "because He saw them fainting and scattered abroad as sheep without a shepherd." Alas! they were perishing for lack of the bread of heaven, and who should go and break it to their needy souls?
His feelings were the more affected because He saw that they felt hungry. They not only were famishing for the bread of life, but they seemed to have some consciousness of the fact. They were just then in the condition of a harvest-field, the white grain of which is ready for the sickle, and waits the coming of the reapers. So the multitudes were ready to be gathered into the granary of the great Lord of the harvest. No wonder this sight should touch the deepest compassions of His benevolent heart.
II. What is really intended in the precept, "Pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth laborers into His harvest?"
Every precept relating to external conduct has its spirit and also its letter, the letter referring to the external, but the spirit to the internal; yet both involved in real obedience. In the present case, the letter of the precept requires prayer; but let no one suppose that merely using the words of prayer is real obedience. Besides the words there must be a praying state of mind. The precept does not require us to lie and play the hypocrite before God. No one can for a moment suppose this to be the case. Therefore, it must be admitted that the precept requires the spirit of prayer as well as the letter. It requires first in value a praying state of mind, and then also its due expression in the forms of prayer.
What, then, is the true spirit of this precept? answer, love for souls. Certainly it does not require us to pray for men without any heart in our prayer; but that we should pray with a sincere heart, full of real love for human welfare -- a love for immortal souls and a deep concern for their salvation. It doubtless requires the same compassion that Jesus Himself had for souls. His heart was gushing with real compassion for dying souls, and He was conscious that His own was a right state of mind. Therefore, He could not do less than require the same state of mind of all His people. Hence, He requires that we should have real and deep compassion for souls, such compassion as really moves the heart, for such most obviously was His.
This involves a full committal of the soul to this object. Christ had committed His soul to the great labor of saving men; for this He labored and toiled; for this His heart agonized; for this His life was ready to be offered; therefore, He could do no less than require the same of His people.
Again, an honest offering of this prayer implies a willingness on our part that God should use us in His harvest-field in any capacity He pleases. When the farmer gathers his harvest, many things are to be done, and often he needs many hands to do them. Some he sends in to cut the grain, others to bind it; some gather into the barn, and others glean the field, that nothing be lost. So Christ will have a variety of labors for His servants in the great harvest-field; and no men can be of real use to Him unless they are willing to work in any department of their Master's service, thankful for the privilege of doing the humblest service for such a Master and in such a cause.
Hence, it is implied in honest prayer for this object that we are really committed to the work, and that we have given ourselves up most sincerely and entirely to do all we can for Christ and His cause on earth. We are always on hand, ready for any labor or any suffering. For, plainly, if we have not this mind, we need not think to pray to any good purpose. It would be but a sorry and insulting prayer to say, "Lord, send somebody else to do all the hard work, and let me do little or nothing." Everybody knows that such a prayer would only affront God and curse the offerer.
Hence, sincere prayer for Christ's cause implies that you are willing to do anything you can do to promote its interests, in the actual and absolute devotion of all your powers and resources for this object. You may not withhold even your own children. Nothing shall be too dear for you to offer on God's altar.
Suppose a man should give nothing -- should withhold all his means and suppress all efforts, only he says he will pray. He professes indeed to pray. But do you suppose that his prayer has any heart in it? Does he mean what he says? Does he love the object more than all things else? Nay, verily. You never could say that a young man does all he can for Christ's harvest if he refuses to go into the field to work, nor that an aged, but wealthy, man is doing all he can if he refuses to give anything to help sustain the field-laborers.
III. What, then, is implied in really obeying this precept?
IV. That this state of mind is an indispensable
condition of salvation.
The Church are many of them dreadfully in the dark about the conditions of salvation. I was once preaching on this subject, and urging that holiness is one condition of salvation, "without which no man can see the Lord," when I was confronted and strenuously opposed by a Doctor of Divinity. He said, The Bible makes faith the sole and only condition of salvation. Paul, said he, preached that faith is the condition, and plainly meant to exclude every other condition. But I answered, Why did Paul press so earnestly and hold up so prominently the doctrine of salvation by faith? Because he had to oppose the great Jewish error of salvation by works. Such preaching was greatly and specially needed then, and Paul pressed into the field to meet the emergency. But when Antinomianism developed itself, James was called out to uphold with equal decision the doctrine that faith without works is dead, and that good works are the legitimate fruit of living faith, and are essential to evince its life and genuineness. This at once raised a new question about the nature of Gospel faith. James held that all true Gospel faith must work by love. It must be an affectionate filial confidence, such as draws the soul into sympathy with Christ, and leads it forward powerfully to do all His will.
Many professed Christians hold that nothing is needful but simply faith and repentance, and that faith may exist without real benevolence, and consequently without good works. No mistake can be greater than this. The grand requisition which God makes upon man is that he become truly benevolent. This is the essence of all true religion, a state of mind that has compassion like God's compassion for human souls; that cries out in earnest prayer for their salvation, and that shrinks from no labor to effect this object. If, therefore, true religion be a condition of salvation, then is the state of mind developed in our text also a condition.
A SUBJECT of present duty and of great practical
importance is brought before us in this text. That we may clearly apprehend it, let
us inquire --
I. What constitutes a sinner?
II. What is conversion?
What is it to "convert the sinner from the error of his ways?"
This error lies in his having a wrong object of life -- his own present worldly interests. Hence to convert him from the error of his ways is to turn him from this course to a benevolent consecration of himself to God and to human well-being. This is precisely what is meant by conversion. It is changing the great moral end of action. It supplants selfishness and substitutes benevolence in its stead.
III. In what sense does man convert a sinner?
Our text reads, "If any of you do err from the truth and one convert him" -- implying that man may convert a sinner. But in what sense can this be said and done?
I answer, the change must of necessity be a voluntary one, not a change in the essence of the soul, nor in the essence of the body -- not any change in the created constitutional faculties; but a change which the mind itself, acting under various influences, makes as to its own voluntary end of action. It is an intelligent change -- the mind, acting intelligently and freely, changes its moral course, and does it for perceived reasons.
The Bible ascribes conversion to various agencies:
Again, let it be considered, no man can convert
another without the co-operation and consent of that other. His conversion consists
in his yielding up his will and changing his voluntary course. He can never do this
against his own free will. He may be persuaded and induced to change his voluntary
course; but to be persuaded is simply to be led to change one's chosen course and
Even God can not convert a sinner without his own consent. He can not, for the simple reason that the thing involves a contradiction. The being converted implies his own consent -- else it is no conversion at all. God converts men, therefore, only as He persuades them to turn from the error of their selfish ways to the rightness of benevolent ways.
So, also, man can convert a sinner only in the sense of presenting the reasons that induce the voluntary change and thus persuading him to repent. If he can do this, then he converts a sinner from the error of his ways. But the Bible informs us that man alone never does or can convert a sinner.
It holds, however, that when man acts humbly, depending on God, God works with him and by him. Men are "laborers together with God." They present reasons and God enforces those reasons on the mind. When the minister preaches, or when you converse with sinners, man presents truth, and God causes the mind to see it with great clearness and to feel its personal application with great power. Man persuades and God persuades; man speaks to his ear -- God speaks to his heart. Man presents truth through the medium of his senses to reach his free mind; God presses it upon his mind so as to secure his voluntary yielding to its claims. Thus the Bible speaks of sinners as being persuaded, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." In this the language of the Bible is entirely natural, just as if you should say you had turned a man from his purpose, or that your arguments had turned him, or that his own convictions of truth had turned him. So the language of the Bible on this subject is altogether simple and artless, speaking right out in perfect harmony with the laws of mind.
IV. What kind of death is meant by the text -- "Shall save a soul from death."
Observe, it is a soul, not a body, that is to be saved from death; consequently we may dismiss all thought of the death of the body in this connection. However truly converted, his body must nevertheless die.
The passage speaks of the death of the soul.
By the death of the soul is sometimes meant spiritual death, a state in which the mind is not influenced by truth as it should be. The man is under the dominion of sin and repels the influence of truth.
Or the death of the soul may be eternal death -- the utter loss of the soul, and its final ruin. The sinner is, of course, spiritually dead, and if this condition were to continue through eternity, this would become eternal death. Yet the Bible represents the sinner dying unpardoned, as "going away into everlasting punishment," and as being "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." To be always a sinner is awful enough -- is a death of fearful horror; but how terribly augmented is even this when you conceive of it as heightened by everlasting punishment, far away "from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power!"
V. The importance of saving a soul from death.
Our text says, he who converts a sinner saves a soul from death. Consequently he saves him from all the misery he else must have endured. So much misery is saved.
And this amount is greater in the case of each sinner saved than all that has been experienced in our entire world up to this hour. This may startle you at first view and may seem incredible. Yet you have only to consider the matter attentively and you will see it must be true. That which has no end -- which swells utterly beyond all our capacities for computation -- must surpass any finite amount, however great.
Yet the amount of actual misery experienced in this world has been very great. As you go about the great cities in any country you can not fail to see it. Suppose you could ascend some lofty eminence and stretch your vision over a whole continent, just to take in at one glance all its miseries. Suppose you had an eye to see all forms of human woe and measure their magnitude -- all the woes of slavery, oppression, intemperance, war, lust, disease, heart-anguish; suppose you could stand above some battle-field and hear as in one ascending volume all its groans and curses, and take the gauge and dimensions of its unutterable woes; suppose you could hear the echo of its agonies as they roll up to the very heavens; you must say -- There is indeed an ocean of agony here; yet all this is only a drop in the bucket compared with that vast amount, defying all calculation, which each sinner, lost, must endure, and from which each sinner, converted, is saved. If you were to see the cars rush over a dozen men at once, grinding their flesh and bones, you could not bear the sight. Perhaps you would even faint away. Oh, if you could see all the agonies of the earth accumulated, and could hear the awful groans ascending in one deafening roar that would shake the very earth, how must your nerves quiver! Yet all this would be merely nothing compared with the eternal sufferings of one lost soul! And this is true, however low may be the degree of this lost soul's suffering, each moment of his existence.
Yet farther. The amount of suffering thus saved is greater not only than all that ever has been, but than all that ever will be endured in this world. And this is true, even although the number of inhabitants be supposed to be increased a million-fold, and their miseries be augmented in like proportion. No matter how low the degree of suffering which the sinner would endure, yet our supposition, if the earth's population increased a million-fold, and its aggregate of miseries augmented in like proportion, can not begin to measure the agonies of the lost spirit.
Or we may extend our comparison and take in all that has yet been endured in the universe -- all the agonies of earth and all the agonies of hell combined, up to this hour -- ye; even so, our aggregate is utterly too scanty to measure the amount of suffering saved, when one sinner is converted. Nay, more, the amount thus saved is greater than the created universe ever can endure in any finite duration. Aye, it is even greater, myriads of times greater, than all finite minds can ever conceive. You may embrace the entire conception of all finite minds, of every man and every angel, of all minds but that of God, and still the man who saves one soul from death saves in that single act more misery from being endured than all this immeasurable amount. He saves more misery, by myriads of times, than the entire universe of created minds can conceive.
I am afraid many of you have never given yourselves the trouble to think of this subject. You are not to escape from this fearful conclusion by saying that suffering is only a natural consequence of sin, and that there is no governmental infliction of pain. It matters not at all whether the suffering be governmental or natural. The amount is all I speak of now. If he continues in his sins, he will be miserable forever by natural law; and, therefore, the man who converts a sinner from his sins saves all this immeasurable amount of suffering.
You may recollect the illustration used by an old divine who attempted to give an approximate conception of this idea -- an enlarged conception by means of the understanding. There are two methods of studying and of endeavoring to apprehend the infinite: one by the reason, which simply affirms the infinite; and another by the understanding, which only approximates toward it by conceptions and estimates of the finite. Both these modes of conception may be developed by culture. Let a man stand on the deck of a ship and cast his eye abroad upon the shoreless expanse of waters, he may get some idea of the vast; or, better, let him go out and look at the stars in the dimmed light of evening; he can get some idea of their number and of the vastness of that space in which they are scattered abroad. On the other hand, his reason tells him at once that this space is unlimited. His understanding only helps him to approximate toward this great idea. Let him suppose, as he gazes upon the countless stars of ether, that he has the power of rising into space at pleasure, and that he does ascend with the rapidity of lightning for thousands of years. Approaching those glorious orbs, one after another, he takes in more and more clear and grand conceptions of their magnitude, as he soars on past the moon, the sun, and other suns of surpassing splendor and glory. So of the conceptions of the understanding in reference to the great idea of eternity.
The old writer to whom I alluded supposes a bird to be removing a globe of earth by taking away a single grain of sand once in a thousand years. What an eternity, almost, it would take! And yet this would not measure eternity.
Suppose, sinner, that it is you yourself who is suffering during all this period, and that you are destined to suffer until this supposed bird has removed the last grain of sand away. Suppose you are to suffer nothing more than you have sometimes felt; yet suppose that bird must remove, in this slow process, not this world only -- for this is but a little speck comparatively -- but also the whole material universe. Only a single grain at a time!
Or suppose the universe were a million times more extensive than it is, and then that you must be a sufferer through all this time, while the bird removes slowly a single minute grain once in each thousand years! Would it not appear to you like an eternity? If you knew that you must be deprived of all happiness for all time, would not the knowledge sink into your soul with a force perfectly crushing?
But, after all, this is only an understanding conception. Let this time thus measured roll on, until all is removed that God ever created or ever can create; even so, it affords scarcely a comparison, for eternity has no end. You can not even approximate towards its end. After the lapse of the longest period you can conceive, you have approached no nearer than you were when you first begun. O, sinner, "can your heart endure, or your hands be strong in the day when God shall deal thus with you?"
But let us look at still another view of the case. He who converts a sinner not only saves more misery, but confers more happiness than all the world has yet enjoyed, or even all the created universe. You have converted a sinner, have you? Indeed! Then think what has been gained! Does any one ask -- What then? Let the facts of the case give the answer. The time will come when he will say -- In my experience of God and divine things, I have enjoyed more than all the created universe had done up to the general judgment -- more than the aggregate happiness of all creatures, during the whole duration of our world; and yet my happiness is only just begun! Onward, still onward -- onward forever rolls the deep tide of my blessedness, and evermore increasing!
Then look also at the work in which this converted man is engaged. Just look at it. In some sunny hour when you have caught glimpses of God and of His love, and have said -- O, if this might only last forever! O, you have said, if this stormy world were not around me! O, if my soul had wings like a dove, then would I fly away and be at rest. Those were only aspirations for the rest of heaven -- this which the converted man enjoys above is heaven. You must add to this the rich and glorious idea of eternal enlargement -- perpetual increase. His blessedness not only endures forever, but increases forever. And this is the bliss of every converted sinner.
If these things be true, then --
Some seem to be waiting for miraculous interposition.
They take no pains with their children or friends. Very much as if they felt no interest
in the great issue, they wait and wait for God or miracle to move. Alas, they do
nothing in this great work of human life!
Many professed Christians have no faith in God's blessing, and no expectation, thereby, of success. Consequently they make no effort in faith. Their own experience is good for nothing to help them, because never having had faith, they never have had success. Many ministers preach so as to do no good. Having failed so long, they have lost all faith. They have not gone to work expecting success, and hence they have not had success.
Many professors of religion, not ministers, seem to have lost all confidence. Ask them if they are doing anything, they answer truly -- nothing. But if their hearts were full of the love of souls or of the love of Christ, they would certainly make efforts. They would at least try to convert sinners from the error of their ways. They would live religion -- would hold up its light as a natural spontaneous thing.
Each one, male or female, of every age, and in any position in life whatsoever, should make it a business to save souls. There are, indeed, many other things to be done; let them have their place. But don't neglect the greatest of all.
Many professed Christians seem never to convert sinners. Let me ask you how is it with you? Some of you might reply -- Under God, I have been the means of saving some souls. But some of you can not even say this. You know you have never labored honestly and with all your heart for this object. And you do not know that you have ever been the means of converting one sinner.
What shall I say of those young converts here? Have you given yourselves up to this work? Are you laboring for God? Have you gone to your impenitent friends, even to their rooms, and by personal, affectionate entreaty, besought them to be reconciled to God?
By your pen and by every form of influence you can command have you sought to save souls and do what you can in this work? Have you succeeded?
Suppose all the professors of religion in this congregation were to do this, each in their sphere and each doing all they severally could do, how many would be left unconverted? If each one should say, "I lay myself on the altar of my God for this work; I confess all my past delinquencies; henceforth, God helping me, this shall be the labor of my life;" if each one should begin with removing all the old offences and occasions of stumbling -- should publicly confess and deplore his remissness and every other form of public offence, confessing how little you have done for souls, crying out: O how wickedly I have lived in this matter! but I must reform, must confess, repent, and change altogether the course of my life; if you were all to do this and then set yourselves each in your place, to lay your hand in all earnestness upon your neighbor and pluck him out of the fire -- how glorious would be the result!
But to neglect the souls of others and think you shall yet be saved yourself is one of guilt's worst blunders! For unless you live to save others, how can you hope to be saved yourself? "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."
CHRIST had just spoken the parable of the unjust
steward, in which He presented the case of one who unjustly used the property of
others entrusted to him, for the purpose of laying them under obligation to provide
for himself after expulsion from His trust. Our Lord represents this conduct of the
steward as being wise in the sense of forethoughtful, and provident for self -- a
wisdom of the world, void of all morality. He uses the case to illustrate and recommend
the using of wealth in such a way as to make friends for ourselves who at our death
shall welcome us into "everlasting habitations." Then going deeper, even
to the bottom principle that should control us in all our use of wealth, He lays
it down that no man can serve both God and Mammon. Rich and covetous men who were
serving Mammon need not suppose they could serve God too at the same time. The service
of the one is not to be reconciled with the service of the other.
The covetous Pharisees heard all these things, and they derided Him. As if they would say, "Indeed, you seem to be very sanctimonious, to tell us that we do not serve God acceptably! When has there ever been a tithe of mint that we did not pay?" Those Pharisees did not admit His orthodoxy, by any means. They thought they could serve God and Mammon both. Let whoever would say they served Mammon, they knew they served God also, and they had nothing but scorn for those teachings that showed the inconsistency and absurdity of their worshiping two opposing gods and serving two opposing masters.
Our Lord replied to them in the words of our text, "Ye are they who justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God."
In pursuing the subject thus presented, I shall --
Show how and why it is that men highly esteem that which God abhors.
The world have mainly lost the true idea of religion. This is too obvious from all I have said to need more illustration.
The same is true to a great extent of the Church. Professed Christians judge themselves falsely because they judge by a false standard.
One of the most common and fatal mistakes is to employ a merely negative standard. Here are men complaining of a want of conviction. Why don't they take the right standard and judge themselves by that? Suppose you had let a house burn down and made no effort to save it; what would you think of the guilt of stupidity and laziness there? Two women and five children are burnt to ashes in the conflagration; why did not you give the alarm when you saw the fire getting hold? Why did not you rush into the building and drag out the unconscious inmates? Oh, you felt stupid that morning -- just as people talk of being "stupid" in religion! Well, you hope not to be judged very hard, since you did not set the house on fire; you only let it alone; all you did was to do nothing! That is all many persons plead as to their religious duties. They do nothing to pluck sinners out of the fire, and they seem to think this is a very estimable religion! Was this the religion of Jesus Christ or of Paul? Is it the religion of real benevolence? or of common sense?
You see how many persons who have a Christian hope indulge it on merely negative grounds. Often I ask persons how they are getting along in religion. They answer, pretty well; and yet they are doing nothing that is really religious. They are making no effort to save souls -- are doing nothing to serve God. What are they doing? Oh, they keep up the forms of prayer! Suppose you should employ a servant and pay him off each week, yet he does nothing all the long day but pray to you!
Religion is very intelligible and is easily understood. It is a warfare. What is a warrior's service? He devotes himself to the service of his country. If need be, he lays down his life on her altar. He is expected to do this.
So a man is to lay down his life on God's altar, to be used in life or death, as God may please, in His service.
The things most highly esteemed among men are often the very things God most abhors. Take, for example, the legalist's religion. The more he is bound in conscience and enslaved, by so much the more, usually, does his esteem as a Christian rise.
The more earnestly he groans under his bondage to sin, the more truly he has to say --
"Reason I hear, her counsels weigh,
And all her words approve;
Yet still I find it hard to obey
And harder yet to love," --
By so much the more does the world esteem and God abhor his religion. The good man, they say -- he was all his lifetime subject to bondage! He was in doubts and fears all his life! But why did he not come by faith into that liberty with which Christ makes His people free?
A morality, based on the most refined selfishness, stands in the highest esteem among men. So good a man of the world they say -- almost a saint; yet God must hold him in utter abomination.
The good Christian in the world's esteem is never abrupt, never aggressive, yet he is greatly admired. He has a selfish devotion to pleasing men, than which nothing is more admired. I heard of a minister who had not an enemy in the world. He was said to be most like Christ among all the men they knew. I thought it strange that a man so like Christ should have no enemies, for Christ, more like Himself than any other man can be, had a great many enemies, and very bitter enemies too. Indeed, it is said, "If any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he shall suffer persecution." But when I came to learn the facts of the case I understood the man. He never allowed himself to preach anything that could displease even Universalists. In fact, he had two Universalists in his Session. In the number of his Session were some Calvinists also, and he must by no means displease them. His preaching was indeed a model of its kind. His motto was -- Please the people -- nothing but please the people. In the midst of a revival, he would leave the meetings and go to a party; why? To please the people.
Now this may be highly esteemed among men; but does not God abhor it?
It is a light thing to be judged of man's judgment, and all the lighter since they are so prone to judge by a false standard. What is it to me that men condemn me if God only approve? The longer I live, the less I think of human opinions on the great questions of right and wrong as God sees them. They will judge both themselves and others falsely. Even the Church sometimes condemns and excommunicates her best men. I have known cases, and could name them, in which I am confident they have done this very thing. They have cut men off from their communion, and now everybody sees that the men excommunicated were the best men of the Church.
It is a blessed thought that the only thing we need to care for is to please God. The only inquiry we need make is -- What will God think of it? We have only one mind to please, and that the Great Mind of the universe. Let this be our single aim and we shall not fail to please Him. But if we do not aim at this, all we can do is only an abomination in His sight.
THE discussion of this text naturally leads us
to make four inquiries,
I. What is it to overcome the world?
II. Who are they that overcome?
III. Why do they overcome the world?
IV. How do they do it?
These are the natural questions which a serious mind would ask upon reading this text.
I. What is it to overcome the world?
II. Who are those that overcome the world?
Our text gives the ready answer: "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world." You cannot fail to observe that this is a universal proposition -- all who are born of God overcome the world -- all these, and it is obviously implied none others. You may know who are born of God by this characteristic -- they overcome the world. Of course the second question is answered.
III. Why do believers overcome the world? On what principle is this result effected?
I answer, this victory over the world results as naturally from the spiritual or heavenly birth, as coming into bondage to the world results from the natural birth.
It may be well to revert a moment to the law of connection in the latter case, viz., between coming into the world by natural birth and bondage to the world. This law obviously admits of a philosophical explanation, at once simple and palpable to every one's observation. Natural birth reveals to the mind objects of sense and these only. It brings the mind into contact with worldly things. Of course it is natural that the mind should become deeply interested in these objects thus presented through its external senses, especially as most of them sustain so intimate a relation to our sentient nature and become the first and chief sources of our happiness.
Hence our affections are gradually entwined around these objects, and we become thoroughly lovers of this world ere our eyes have been opened upon it many months.
Now alongside of this universal fact let another be placed of equal importance and not less universal, namely, that those intuitive powers of the mind which were created to take cognizance of our moral relations, and hence to counteract the too great influence of worldly objects, come into action very slowly, and are not developed so as to act vigorously until years are numbered as months are in the case of the external organs of sense. The very early and vigorous development of the latter brings the soul so entirely under the control of worldly objects that when the reason and the conscience come to speak, their voice is little heeded. As a matter of fact, we find it universally true that unless divine power interpose, the bondage to the world thus induced upon the soul is never broken.
But the point which I particularly desired to elucidate was simply this, that natural birth, with its attendant laws of physical and mental development, becomes the occasion of bondage to this world.
Right over against this lies the birth into the kingdom of God by the Spirit. By this the soul is brought into new relations -- we might rather say, into intimate contact with spiritual things. The Spirit of God seems to usher the soul into the spiritual world, in a manner strictly analogous to the result of the natural birth upon our physical being. The great truths of the spiritual world are opened to our view through the illumination of the Spirit of God; we seem to see with new eyes, and to have a new world of spiritual objects around us.
As in regard to natural objects, men not only speculate about them, but realize them; so in the case of spiritual children do spiritual things become not merely matters of speculation, but of full and practical realization also. When God reveals Himself to the mind, spiritual things are seen in their real light, and make the impression of realities.
Consequently, when spiritual objects are thus revealed to the mind, and thus apprehended, they will supremely interest that mind. Such is our mental constitution that the truth of God when thoroughly apprehended cannot fail to interest us. If these truths were clearly revealed to the wickedest man on earth, so that he should apprehend them as realities, it could not fail to rouse up his soul to most intense action. He might hate the light, and might stubbornly resist the claims of God upon his heart, but he could not fail to feel a thrilling interest in truths that so take hold of the great and vital things of human well-being.
Let me ask, is there a sinner in this house, or can there be a sinner on this wide earth, who does not see that if God's presence was made as manifest and as real to his mind as the presence of his fellow-men, it would supremely engross his soul even though it might not subdue his heart.
This revelation of God's presence and character might not convert him, but it would, at least for the time being, kill his attention to the world.
You often see this in the case of persons deeply convicted. You have doubtless seen persons so fearfully convicted of sin, that they cared nothing at all for their food nor their dress. O, they cried out in the agony of their souls, what matter all these things to us, if we even get them all, and then must lie down in hell!
But these thrilling and all-absorbing convictions do not necessarily convert the soul, and I have alluded to them here only to show the controlling power of realizing views of divine truth.
When real conversion has taken place, and the soul is born of God, then realizing views of truth not only awaken interest, as they might do in an unrenewed mind, but they also tend to excite a deep and ardent love for these truths. They draw out the heart. Spiritual truth now takes possession of his mind, and draws him into its warm and life-giving embrace. Before, error, falsehood, death, had drawn him under their power; now the Spirit of God draws him into the very embrace of God. Now he is begotten of God, and breathes the spirit of sonship. Now, according to the Bible, "the seed of God remaineth in him," that very truth, and those movings of the spirit which give him birth into the kingdom of God, continue still in power upon his mind, and hence he continues a Christian, and as the Bible states it, "he cannot sin, because he is born of God." The seed of God is in him, and the fruit of it brings his soul deeply into sympathy with his own Father in heaven.
Again, the first birth makes us acquainted with earthly things, the second with God; the first with the finite, the second with the infinite; the first with things correlated with our animal nature, the second with those great things which stand connected with our spiritual nature, things so lovely, and so glorious as to overcome all the ensnarements of the world.
Again, the first begets a worldly, and the second a heavenly temper. Under the first, the mind is brought into a snare, under the second, it is delivered from that snare. Under the first, the conversation is earthly; under the second, "our conversation is in heaven."
But we must pass to inquire,
IV. How this victory over the world is achieved.
The great agent is the Holy Spirit. Without Him, no good result is ever achieved in the Christian's heart or life. The text, you observe, says, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." But here the question might be raised: Does this mean that faith of itself overcomes the world, or, is this the meaning, that we overcome by or through our faith? Doubtless the latter is the precise meaning. Believing in God, and having realizing impressions of His truth and character made upon our mind by the Holy Ghost given to those who truly believe, we gain the victory over the world.
Faith implies three things. 1. Perception of truth. 2. An interest in it. 3. The committal or giving up of the mind to be interested and controlled by these objects of faith.
Perception of the truth must come first in order, for there can be no belief of unknown and unperceived truth. Next, there must be an interest in the truth which shall wake up the mind to fixed and active attention; and thirdly, there must be a voluntary committal of the mind to the control of truth. The mind must wholly yield itself up to God, to be governed entirely by His will, and to trust Him and Him alone as its own present and eternal portion.
Again, faith receives Christ. The mind first perceives Christ's character and His relations to us -- sees what He does for us, and then deeply feeling its own need of such a Saviour, and of such a work wrought in and for us as Jesus alone can do, it goes forth to receive and embrace Jesus as its own Saviour. This action of the soul in receiving and embracing Christ is not sluggish -- it is not a state of dozing quietism. No; it involves the soul's most strenuous activity. And this committal of the soul must become a glorious, living, energizing principle -- the mind not only perceiving, but yielding itself up with the most fervid intensity to be Christ's and to receive all the benefits of His salvation into our own souls.
Again, faith receives Christ into the soul as King, in all His relations, to rule over the whole being -- to have our heart's supreme confidence and affection -- to receive the entire homage of our obedience and adoration; to rule, in short, over us, and fulfil all the functions of supreme King over our whole moral being. Within our very souls we receive Christ to live and energize there, to reign forever there as on His own rightful throne.
Now a great many seem to stop short of this entire and perfect committal of their whole soul to Christ. They stop short perhaps with merely perceiving the truth, satisfied and pleased that they have learned the theory of the Gospel. Or perhaps some go one step further, and stop with being interested -- with having their feelings excited by the things of the Gospel, thus going only to the second stage; or perhaps they seem to take faith, but not Christ; they think to believe, but after all do not cordially and with all the heart welcome Christ Himself into the soul.
All these various steps stop short of really taking hold of Christ. They none of them result in giving the victory over the world.
The true Bible doctrine of faith represents Christ as coming into the very soul. "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." What could more forcibly and beautifully teach the doctrine that by faith Christ is introduced into the very soul of the believer to dwell there by His gracious presence?
Since my mind has been drawn to the subject, I have been astonished to see how long I have been in a purblind state of perception in respect to this particular view of faith. Of a long time I had scarcely seen it; now I see it beaming forth in lines of glory on almost every page. The Bible seems to blaze with the glorious truth, Christ in the soul, the hope of glory; God, Christ, dwelling in our body as in a temple. I am amazed that a truth so rich and so blessed should have been seen so dimly, when the Bible reveals it so plainly. Christ received into the very soul by faith, and thus brought into the nearest possible relations to our heart and life; Christ Himself becoming the all-sustaining Power within us, and thus securing the victory over the world; Christ, living and energizing in our hearts -- this is the great central truth in the plan of sanctification, and this no Christian should fail to understand, as he values the victory over the world and the living communion of the soul with its Maker.
THE connection of this passage will help us to
understand its meaning. Near the close of the previous chapter Paul had said, "The
law entered that the offence might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did much
more abound, that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through
righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord." He speaks here
of sin as being a reigning principle or monarch, and of grace also as reigning. Then,
in chapter vi., he proceeds, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin
that grace may abound? Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto
sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
You observe here that Paul speaks of the man, the old sinner, as being crucified with Christ, so destroyed by the moral power of the Cross that he who was once a sinner shall no longer serve sin. When he speaks of our being planted or buried with Christ, we must of course understand him as employing figures of speech to teach the great truth that the Gospel redeems the soul from sin. As Christ died for sin, so by a general analogy we die to sin; while, on the other hand, as He rose to a new and infinitely glorious life, so the convert rises to a new and blessed life of purity and holiness.
But recurring particularly to our text, let me say -- The language used in our translation would seem to denote that our death to sin is precisely analogous to Christ's death for sin; but this is not the case. We are dead to sin in the sense that it is no longer to be our master, implying that it has been in power over us. But sin never was in power over Jesus Christ -- never was His master. Christ died to abolish its power over us -- not to abolish any power of sin over Himself, for it had none. The analogy between Christ's death in relation to sin and our dying to sin, goes to this extent and no farther: He died for the sake of making an atonement for sin and of creating a moral power that should be effective to kill the love of sin in all hearts; but the Christian dies unto sin in the sense of being divorced from all sympathy with sin and emancipated from its control.
But I must proceed to remark upon the text itself, and shall inquire,
I. What it is to be dead unto sin in the sense of the text.
II. What it is to be alive unto God.
III. What it is to reckon ourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
IV. What it is to be alive unto God through Jesus Christ.
V. What is implied in the exhortation of our text.
I. What it is to be dead unto sin in the sense of the text.
Being dead to sin must obviously be the opposite of being dead in sin. The latter must undeniably be a state of entire sinfulness -- a state in which the soul is dead to all good through the power of sin over it. But right over against this, to be dead to sin, must be to be indifferent to its attractions -- beyond the reach of its influence -- as fully removed from its influences as the dead are from the objects of sense in this world. As he who is dead in the natural sense has nothing more to do with earthly things, so he who is dead to sin has nothing to do any more with sin's attractions or with sinning itself.
II. What is it to be alive unto God?
To be full of life for Him -- to be altogether active and on the alert to do His will; to make our whole lives a perpetual offering to Him, constantly delivering up ourselves to Him and His service that we may glorify His name and subserve His interests.
III. What is it to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin?
The word rendered reckon is sometimes rendered account. Abraham's faith was accounted unto him for righteousness. So, in this passage, reckon must mean believe, esteem yourselves dead indeed unto sin. Account this to be the case. Regard this as truly your relation to sin; you are entirely dead to it; it shall have no more dominion over you.
A careful examination of the passages where this original word is used will show that this is its usual and natural sense. And this gives us the true idea of Gospel faith -- embracing personally the salvation which is by faith in Jesus Christ. But more of this hereafter.
IV. What is meant by reckoning yourselves alive indeed unto God through Jesus Christ?
Plainly this: that you are to expect to be saved by Jesus Christ and to calculate on this salvation as your own. You are to esteem yourself as wholly dead to sin and as consequently brought into life and peace in Christ Jesus.
V. What is implied in the exhortation of our text?
That there is an adequate provision for this expectation, and for realizing these blessings in fact. For if there were no ground for realizing this, the injunction would be most absurd. A precept requiring us to account ourselves dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God, would be utterably untenable if there were no probability of the thing -- if no provision were made for our coming into such relations to sin on the one hand and to God through Christ on the other. For if these blessings could not be reasonably expected, there could be no rational ground for the expectation. If it were not reasonable to expect it, then to enjoin us to expect it would be palpably unreasonable. Who does not see that the very injunction implies that there is a foundation laid and adequate provision made for the state required?
What is implied in complying with this injunction.
It so happens that the Bible never gainsays its
own teachings; but I ask -- What if it had? What if the Bible had solemnly asserted,
"No mere man, either of himself or by any grace received in this life, has ever
kept or shall ever keep the commandments of God wholly, but doth daily break them
in thought, word, and deed?"
To teach that such an expectation is dangerous is a great deal worse than no teaching at all. Far better to leave men to their own unaided reading of God's Word, for this could scarcely in any case so sadly mislead them, however inclined they might be to the misapprehension. Dangerous to expect salvation from sin? Dangerous? What does this mean? What! Dangerous to expect victory over any sin? If so, what is the Gospel worth? What Gospel have we that can be deemed good news at all?
Many indulge the very opposite expectation. Far from expecting any such thing as the apostle authorizes them to expect, they know they have no such expectation.
Of some yet more than this is true -- they expect to count themselves always in sin. They depend on reckoning themselves, not dead indeed unto sin, but somewhat alive to it through all their mortal life, and in part alive to God through Jesus Christ. It follows as quite a thing of course that expecting no such thing as complete victory over sin they will use no appropriate means, since faith stands foremost among those means, and faith must include at least a confidence that the thing sought is possible to be attained.
In this and the following chapters we have the essence of the good news of the Gospel. Any one who has been wounded and made sore by sin -- its bitter shafts sinking deep into his moral being -- one who has known its bitterness and felt the poison thereof drink up his spirit -- such an one will see that there is glory in the idea of being delivered from sin. He will surely see that this deliverance is by far the greatest want of his soul, and that nothing can be compared with escaping from this body of sin and death. Look at Rom. vii. There you will have the state of a man who is more than convinced, who is really convicted. It is one thing to be convinced, and a yet further stage of progress in the right direction to be convicted. This term implies the agency of another party. The criminal at the bar may be quite convinced of his guilt by the view he was compelled to take of his own case; but his being convicted is a still further step; the testimony and the jury convict him.
Some of you know what it is to see yourself a sinner, and yet the sight of the fact brings with it no smart -- no sting; it does not cut deep into your very soul. On the other hand, some of you may know what it is to see your sins all armed like an armed man to pierce you through and through with daggers. Then you cry out as here -- O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? You feel a piercing sting as if your soul were filled with poison -- with dark rankling venom, diffusing through the depths of your soul the very agonies of hell! This is what I mean by being convicted, as a state of mind beyond being merely convinced. The shafts and the smiting of sin seem really like the piercings of an arrow, as if arrows from the Almighty did really drink up your spirit. When you experience this, then you can understand what the good news of the Gospel is. A remedy for such pangs must be good news beyond all contradiction. Then to know that the blood of Christ can save, is indeed a cordial of life to the fainting soul.
Place a man in this state of cutting, piercing conviction, and then let him feel that there is actually no remedy, and he sinks under the iron shafts of despair. See his agony! Tell him there can never be any remedy for his guilty soul! You must lie there in you wailing and despair forever! Can any state of mind be more awful?
I remember a case that occurred in Reading, Pa., many years ago. There was a man of hard heart and iron frame, a strong, burly man, who had stood up against the revival as if he could shake off all the arrows of the Almighty, even as the Mastodon of which the tradition of the red man says, He shook off all the arrows of the warriors from his brow and felt no harm. So he stood. But he had a praying wife and a praying sister, and they gathered their souls in the might of prayer close about him as a party of men would hem in a wild bull in a net. Soon it was apparent that an arrow from the quiver of the Almighty had pierced between the joints of his harness and had taken hold of his innermost heart. O, was not he in agony then! It was night -- dark and intensely cold. It seemed that absolutely he could not live. They sent for me to come and see him. I went. While yet sixty rods from his house I heard his screams and wailings of woe. It made me feel awfully solemn -- so like the echoes of the pit of hell! I reached the house: there he lay on the floor rolling in his agony and wailing, such as is rarely heard this side the pit of despair. Cold as the weather was, he sweat like rain, every part of his frame being in a most intense perspiration. Oh, his groans! and to see him gnaw his very tongue for pain -- this could not but give one some idea of the doom of the damned. O, said I, if this be only conviction, what is hell? But he could not bear to hear anything about sin; his conscience was already full of it, and had brought out the awful things of God's law so as to leave nothing more to be done in that direction. I could only put Christ before him, and just hold his mind to the view of Christ alone. This soon brought relief. But suppose I had nothing else to say but this, "Mr. B., there is no help possible for your case! You can wail on and wail on: no being in the universe can help you?" Need you say to him hell has no fire? Oh, he has fire enough in his burning soul already. It seems to him that no hell of fire can possibly be worse than this.
How perfectly chilling and horrible for persons to oppose the idea of expecting deliverance from sin and yet talk calmly of going on in sin all the rest of their earthly days! As an elder whom I knew rose in meeting and told the Lord he had been living in sin thus far, and expected to go on in sin as long as he lived; he had sinned today and should doubtless sin tomorrow and so on -- and yet he talked as calmly about it all as if it were foolish to make any ado, as well as impossible to attempt any change for the better. Talk of all this calmly -- think of that! Quite calmly of living alone in sin all the rest of his days! How horrible! Suppose a wife should say to her husband, "I love you some, but you know I love many other men too, and that I find it pleasant to indulge myself with them. You certainly must be aware that all women are frail creatures, and liable to fall continually, and indeed you know that I expect to fall more or less, as it may happen, every day I live, so that you certainly will not expect from me anything so impracticable and fanatical as unblemished virtue! You know we have none of us any idea of being perfect in the present life -- we don't believe in any such thing!"
Now let me ask you to look at this woman and hear what she has to say. Can you hear her talk so, without having your soul filled with horror? What! is this woman a wife, and does she think and talk in this way about conjugal fidelity?
And yet this is not to be compared in shocking guilt and treason with the case of the Christian who says, "I expect to sin every day I live," and who says this with unmoved carelessness. You expect to be a traitor to Jesus each day of your life; to crucify Him afresh each day; to put Him each day to an open shame; each day to dishonour His name, and grieve His heart, and to bring sorrow and shame upon all who love Christ's cause; and yet you talk about having a good hope through grace! But tell me, does not every true Christian say, "Do not let me live at all if I cannot live without sin; for how can I bear to go on day by day sinning against Him whom I so much love!"
Those who are really opposed to this idea, are either very ignorant of what the Gospel is, or they are impenitent and of course do not care to be delivered from their sins; or at best they are guilty of great unbelief. Into which of these classes the opposers of the doctrine may fall, is a question for themselves to settle, as between their own consciences and their God.
There are two distinct views of salvation entertained among professed Christians, and correspondingly two distinct classes of professors -- often embraced within the same church. The one class regard the Gospel as a salvation from sin. They think more of this and value it more than the hope of heaven, or of earth either. The great thing with them is to realize the idea of deliverance from sin. This constitutes the charm and glory of the Gospel. They seek this more than to be saved from hell. They care more by far to be saved from sin itself than from its penal consequences. Of the latter they think and pray but little. It is their glory and their joy that Christ is sent to deliver them from their bondage in iniquity -- to lift them up from their wretched state and give them the liberty of love. This they labour to realize; this is to them the good news of Gospel salvation.
The other class are mostly anxious to be saved from hell. The punishment due for sin is the thing they chiefly fear. In fact, fear has been mainly the spring of their religious efforts. The Gospel is not thought of as a means of deliverance from sin, but as a great system of indulgences -- a vast accommodation to take off the fear and danger of damnation, while yet it leaves them in their sin. Now, here I do not by any means imply that they will call their system of Gospel faith a scheme of indulgences: the name doubtless will be an offence to them. They may not have distinctly considered this point, and may have failed to notice that in fact it is such and nothing better.
They seem not to notice that a scheme of salvation that removes the fear of damnation for sin, and which yet leaves them in their sins to live for themselves, to please themselves, and which holds that Christ will at last bring them to heaven notwithstanding their having lived in sin all their days, must be a vast scheme of indulgences. Indeed, it is a compromise on a most magnificent scale. By virtue of it, the whole Church is expected to wallow on in sin through life, and be none the less sure of heaven at last.
These opposite views are so prevalent and so palpable you will see them everywhere as you go round among the churches. You will find many in the Church who are altogether worldly and selfish; who live conformed to the world in various neglects of duty, and who expect to indulge themselves in sin more or less all the way through life. You may ask them -- Do you think that is right? They answer -- No. Why, then, do you do it? Oh, we are all imperfect, and we can't expect to be any better than imperfect, while here in the flesh. Yet they expect to be saved at last from hell, and to have all their sins forgiven; but how? Not on condition of sincerely turning away from all their sins, but on the assumption that the Gospel is a vast system of indulgences -- more vast by far than Pope Leo X. ever wielded and worked to comfort sinning professors in his day. For here are not merely those that sin occasionally as there, but those who live in sin and know they do, and expect they shall as long as they live, yet expect to be saved without fail at last.
The other class of professed Christians have no expectation of being saved only as they have a pure heart and live above the world. Talk to them about living in sin, they hate and dread the very thought. To them the poison of asps is in it. Sin is bitter to their souls. They dread it as they dread death itself.
No one can go round within this church or any other without finding these two classes as distinct in their apprehension of the Gospel as I have described them to be. The one class are in agony if they find themselves even slipping, and they are specially cautious against exposing themselves to temptation.
Not so with the other class. Two ministers of the Gospel being together, one urged the other strongly to engage in a certain service. The other declined. "Why not go?" said the first. "Because I do not think myself justified in exposing myself to such and so much temptation."
"But why stop for that? We expect to sin more or less always; and all we have to do is to repent of it afterwards."
Horror-smitten, the other could only say, "I hold to a different Gospel from that altogether."
Suppose a wife should say to her husband, "I am determined I will go to the theatre." "But, my dear," says he, "you know bad people congregate there, and you may be tempted." But she replies, "Never mind; if I sin I will repent of it afterwards."
The real Christian may be known by this, that the very thought of being drawn into sin drives him to agony. He cannot bear the idea of living in sin; no, not for one moment.
The young people here who are truly Christians, are careful about this ensuing vacation. You will be on your guard, for you are afraid you may be ensnared into sin. I do not mean that you need fear to go where God calls you, but it is a terrible thing to be ensnared into sin, and you cannot but feel it to be so. If you know what it is to be wounded by the arrows of sin in your soul, you will go abroad into apparent danger, walking softly and with caution, and much prayer. You will surely be much on your guard. But if you say, "Oh, if I sin I will repent," what shall I say of you? You will repent will you? And this will make all right again so easily? Suppose you foresaw that in going abroad for vacation you would get drunk a few times, and would commit one or two murders, would you say, "Oh, I may be a good Christian notwithstanding. I will be careful to repent of it after it is all over." Horrible! And yet you can think yourself a good Christian! Let me tell you, a Christian man who repents of sin, repents of it as sin. He makes no such discriminations as between a little secret sin and a great sin -- for example, a murder. He knows no such distinction between sins as will leave him to commit the one class without scruple and to shrink from the other. With him anything that grieves God is a horrible thing. Anything that displeases God, "Ah," he cries out, "God will see it; it will grieve His heart!" How it will affect God -- this is all in all with him. One who knows what it is to appear guilty of sin before God, and then who knows also what it is to be delivered from this condition, will understand how the Christian ought to feel in circumstances of temptation, where he feels himself in danger of sinning. His hair all stands on end! How awful to sin against God! Hence, anything that seems likely to bring him into danger will rouse up all his soul within him, and put him on his guard.
The unbelief of the Church as to what they may receive from Christ is the great stumbling-block, hindering themselves and others from experiencing deliverance. Not only is this a great curse to professed Christians, but it is also a great grief to Jesus Christ and a sore trial.
Many seem to have hardened their hearts against all expectation of this deliverance from sin. They have heard the doctrine preached. They have seen some profess to be in this state of salvation from sin, but they have also seen some of this class fall again, and now they deliberately reject the whole doctrine. But is this consistent with really embracing the Gospel? What is Christ to the believer? What was His errand into the world? What is He doing, and what is He trying to do?
He has come to break the power of sin in the heart, and to be the life of the believer, working in him a perpetual salvation from sin, aiming to bring him thus, and only thus, to heaven at last. What is faith? what but the actual giving of yourself up to Christ that He may do this work for you and in you? What are you to believe of Christ if not this, that He is to save His people from their sins? Can you tell of anything else? Does the Bible tell you to expect something different and less than this? The fact is, that it has been the great stumbling-block to the Church that this thing has not been well understood. The common experience of nominal Christians has misrepresented and belied the truth. The masses forming their views much more from this experience than from the Bible, or at best applying this experience to interpret the Bible, have adopted exceedingly defective, not to say false, opinions as to the nature and design of the Gospel. They seem to forget altogether that Paul, writing to Christians at Rome, assures them that if they are under grace, sin shall not have dominion over them.
When Christians do not expect this blessing from Christ, they will not get it. While they expect so little as they usually do, no wonder they get so little. According to their faith, and not ever very much beyond it, need they expect to receive.
It is often the case that sanctification is held as a theory, while the mind does not yet by any means embrace the truth in love. The case is analogous to that of impenitent sinners who hold in theory that they must have a new heart. They profess to believe thus, but do they really understand it? No. Suppose it were revealed to their minds so that they should really see it as it is, would they not see a new thing? Would they not be startled to see how utterly far they are, while impenitent, from being acceptable to God, and how great the change they must experience before they can enter the kingdom? So of sanctification. Although this class of persons profess to hold it in theory, yet the passages of Scripture which describe it do not enter into their experience. They do not see the whole truth. If they were to see the whole truth, and should then reject it, I believe it would be in them the unpardonable sin. When the Spirit of God discloses to them the real meaning of the Gospel, then if they deliberately reject it, how can the sin be less than what the Scriptures represent as the unpardonable sin? Having once been enlightened, and having received the knowledge of the truth that they might be saved, then turning back, is it not thenceforth impossible that they should be renewed again to repentance? One thing, at least, must be said, there is a peril which many of the professed Christians of our day seem not to realize, in having so much light before the mind as they actually have in regard to the provisions made in the Gospel for present sanctification, and then in rejecting this light practically and living still in sin as if the Gospel made no provision to save the Christian from his sins. Into this awful peril how many rush blindly and to their own destruction!
THERE are a great many things in the experience
of Christians, which, traced out in their natural history, are exceeding interesting.
I have been struck to notice how very commonly what is peculiar to Christian experience
drops out of the mind; while that which is merely incidental remains, and constitutes
the mind's entire conception of what religion is. Their way of talking of their experience
leaves you quite in the dark as to its genuineness, even when they propose to give
you especially the reasons of their hope.
My design is first to state some of the facts which belong to the life of God in the soul.
Some attention to the manner in which sin is first
developed, may serve to show its relations to what I have called the natural history
of the race.
We all know it to be a fact that the natural appetites commence their development immediately after the natural birth. The first awakening to a conscious existence in this world seems to be, if not occasioned by, yet closely connected with, a constitutional demand for food. The alternations of demand and supply commence and go on while health continues -- all the time developing the strength of this class of appetites. Commonly the natural make their development far in advance of the spiritual.
Not much is said in the Bible as to the mode in which sin entered our world and acquired such relations to the human soul, but it is distinctly referred to Adam's first sin, and is asserted to be in some way connected with that event. Facts show that sin has become in a most significant sense natural to the race, so that they all spontaneously, not of necessity, yet spontaneously, if no special grace interpose, begin to sin as soon as they begin to act morally, or in other words, as soon as they become capable of moral action. Not that men are born sinners, not that they sin before they are born, not that sin is born in them, nor that they are beyond their control born into sin; but yet the constitution of the man -- body and mind -- is such, and the law of development is such, that men sin naturally (none the less voluntarily, responsibly, and guiltily), but they all sin of free choice; the temptations to sin being developed in advance of those intellectual and moral powers which should counteract the excessive demands of the sensibility. Mark the developments of the new-born child. Some pain or some appetite awakens its consciousness of existence, and thus is created a demand for the things it perceives itself to need. Then the little infant begins to struggle for good -- for that particular good which its new-developed sensibility demands. Want, the struggling demand for supply, and the gratification, form a process of development which gives such power to the sensibility as generates ere long an intense selfishness; and before the conscience and the reason are perceptibly developed, have laid the foundation for spiritual death. If the Spirit of God does not excite spiritual wants and arouse the mind to efforts in obtaining them, the mind becomes so engrossed and its sensibilities acquire such habits of control over the will, that when the idea of right and wrong is first developed the mind remains dead to its demands. The appetites have already secured the ascendancy. The mind seems to act as if scarcely aware that it has a soul or any spiritual wants. The spiritual consciousness is at first not developed at all. The mind seems not to know its spiritual relations. When this knowledge first forces itself upon the mind, it finds the ground pre-occupied, the habits fixed, the soul too much engaged for earthly good to be called off. The tendency of this law of development is altogether downward; the appetites become more and more despotic and imperious; the mind has less and less regard for God. The mind comes into a state in which spiritual truth frets and chafes it, and of course it thoroughly inclines to spiritual apathy -- choosing apathy, though not unaware of its danger before the perpetual annoyance of unwelcome truths. This tends toward a state of dead insensibility to spiritual want.
The first symptom of change is the soul's awaking to spiritual consequences. Sometimes this is feeble at first, or sometimes it may be more strongly aroused to its spiritual relations, position, and wants. This brings on anxiety, desire, a deep sense of what the soul truly needs. From this arises an influence which begins to counteract the power of appetite. It begins to operate as a balance and check to those long unrestrained demands.
Here you may notice that just in proportion as the spiritual consciousness is developed, the mind becomes wretched, for in this proportion the struggle becomes intense and violent. Before, the man was dead. He was like an animal as to the unchecked indulgence of appetite -- above the mere animal in some things, but below in others. He goes on without that counteracting influence which arises from the spiritual consciousness. You see some who live a giddy, aimless life. They seem not at all aware that they have a spiritual nature or any spiritual wants. When they awake to spiritual consciousness and reflection, conviction produces remorse and agony. This spiritual struggle, at whatever age it may occur, is in its general character the same as occurs in the infant when its spiritual consciousness is first awakened.
It is but natural that when the spiritual faculties are aroused, men will begin to pray and struggle under a deep sense of being wrong and guilty. At first this may be entirely selfish. But before conversion takes place, there will be a point in which the counter influences of the selfish against the spiritual will balance each other, and then the spiritual will gain the ascendancy. The animal and the selfish must relatively decline and the spiritual gain strength, till victory turns on the side of the spiritual powers. How commonly do you observe that when the mind becomes convicted of sin, the attractions of the world fade away; all it can give looks small; sinners can no longer take the pleasure in worldly things they once had. Indeed, this is a most curious and singular struggle. How rapid and great are the changes through which the sinner passes! Today, he quenches the light of God in his soul, and gropes on in darkness; tomorrow the light may return and reveal yet greater sin; one day he relapses back to worldliness, and gives up his soul to his own thoughts and pleasures; but ere another has passed, there is bitterness in this cup and he loathes it, and from his soul cries out: This can never satisfy an immortal mind! Now he begins to practice upon external reformation; but anon he finds that this utterly fails to bring peace to his soul. He is full of trouble and anxiety for salvation, yet all his struggles thus far have been entirely selfish, and ere he is converted he must see this to be the case. He is in a horrible pit of miry clay. The more he struggles the deeper he sinks and the more desperate his case becomes. Selfish efforts for spiritual relief are just like a quagmire of thick clay. Each struggle plunges the sinking man the deeper in the pit. The convicted man is ready to put himself to hard labor and mighty effort. At first he works with great hope of success, for he does not readily understand why selfish efforts will not be successful. He prays, but all in a selfish spirit. By this I mean that he thinks only of himself. He has no thought of honoring or pleasing God -- no thought of any benefit to his fellow-beings. He does not inquire whether his course of life and state of heart are such that God can bless him without detriment to the rest of His great family. In fact, he does not think of caring for the rest of that family nor for the honor of its great Father. Of course, such selfish praying brings no answer; and when he finds this to be the case, he frets and struggles more than ever. Now he goes on to add to his works and efforts. He attends more meetings, and reads his Bible more, and tries new forms of prayer. All is in vain. His heart is selfish still. What can I do? he cries out in agony; if I pray I am selfish, and if I desist from prayer, this too is selfish; if I read my Bible or neglect to read it, each alike is selfish, and what can I do? How can I help being selfish?
Alas, he has no idea of acting from any other or higher motive than his own interests. It is his darkness on this very point that makes the sinner's struggle so long and so unprofitable. This is the reason why he can not be converted at once, and why he must needs sink and flounder so much longer in the quagmire of unavailing and despairing works. It is only when he comes at last to see that all this avails nothing, that he begins to take some right views of his case and of his relations. When he learns that indeed he can not work out his own salvation by working at it on this wise he bethinks himself to inquire whether he be not all wrong, at bottom -- whether his motives of heart are not radically corrupt. Looking round and abroad, he begins to ask whether God may not have some interests and some rights as well as himself. Who is God and where is He? Who is Jesus Christ and what has He done? What did He die for? Is God a great King over all the earth, and should He not have due honor and homage? Was it this great God who so loved the world as to give His Son to die for it? O, I see I have quite neglected to think of God's interests and honor! Now I see how infinitely mean and wicked I have been! Plainly enough, I can not live so. No wonder God did not hear my selfish prayers. There was no hope in that sort of effort, for I had, as I plainly see, no regard to God in anything I was doing then. How reasonable it is that God should ask me to desist from all my selfish endeavors and to put away this selfishness itself, and yield myself entirely and forever to do or suffer all His blessed will!
It is done; and now this long-troubled soul sinks into deep repose. It settles itself down at Jesus' feet, content if only Christ be honored and God's throne made glorious. The final result -- whether saved or lost -- seems to give him no longer that agonizing solicitude; the case is submitted to the Great Disposer in trustful humility. God will do all things well. If He takes due care of His own interests and glory, there will be no complaining -- nothing but deep and peaceful satisfaction.
In the case of most young converts, this state of peaceful trust in God is subject to interruptions. The natural appetites have been denied -- their dominion over the will disowned; but they are not dead. By and by they rise to assert their sway. They clamor for indulgence, and sometimes they get it. Alas, the young convert has fallen into sin! His soul is again in bondage and sorrow. O, how deeply is he mortified to think that he has again given away to temptation, and pierced the bosom on which he loved to recline! He had promised himself he should never sin, but he has sinned, and well for him if he finds no heart to evade or deny the fact. Better admit it all, and most freely, although it wounds his heart more than all his former sins. Mark his agony of spirit! His tears of repentance were never before so bitter! He feels disappointed, and it almost seems to him that this failure must blast all his plans and hopes of leading a Christian life. It does not work as he thought it would. He feels shy of God; for he says, How can God ever trust me again after such developments of unfaithfulness. He can hardly get himself to say a word to God or to Christ. He is almost sure that he has been deceived. But finally he bethinks himself of the Cross of Calvary, and catches a faint ray of light -- a beam of the light of love. He says, There may be mercy for me yet! I will at least go to Jesus and see. Again he goes, and again he falls into those arms of love and is made consciously welcome. The light of God shines on his soul again, and he find himself once more an accepted son in his Father's presence.
But here a new form of desire is awakened. He has learned something of his own weakness and has tasted the bitterness of sin. With an agony of interest never known before, he asks, Can I ever become established in holiness? Can I have righteousness enough to make me stand in the evil day? This is a new form of spiritual desire, such as our text expresses in the words "hunger and thirst after righteousness."
These extended remarks are only an introduction to my general subject, designed to get before your mind the true idea of hungering and thirsting after righteousness. This state of mind is not merely conviction; it is not remorse, nor sorrow, nor a struggle to obtain a hope or to get out of danger. All these feelings may have preceded, but the hungering after righteousness is none of these. It is a longing desire to realize the idea of spiritual and moral purity. He has in some measure appreciated the purity of heaven, and the necessity of being himself as pure as the holy there, in order to enjoy their bliss and breathe freely in their atmosphere.
This state of mind is not often developed by writers, and it seems rarely to have engaged the attention of the Church as its importance demands.
When the mind gets a right view of the atmosphere of heaven, it sees plainly it can not breathe there, but must be suffocated, unless its own spirit is congenial to the purity of that world. I remember the case of a man who, after living a Christian life for a season, relapsed into sin. At length God reclaimed His wandering child. When I next saw him, and heard him speak of his state of relapse, he turned suddenly away and burst into tears, saying, "I have been living in sin, almost choked to death in its atmosphere; it seemed as if I could not breathe in it. It almost choked the breath of spiritual life from my system."
Have not some of you known what this means? You could not bear the infernal atmosphere of sin -- so like the very smoke of the pit! After you get out of it, you say, Let me never be there again! Your soul agonizes and struggles to find some refuge against this awful relapsing into sin. O, you long for a pure atmosphere and a pure heart, that will never hold fellowship with darkness or its works again.
The young convert, like the infant child, may not at first distinctly apprehend its own condition and wants; but such experience as I have been detailing develops the idea of perfect purity, and then the soul longs for it with longings irrepressible. I must, says the now enlightened convert, I must be drawn into living union with God as revealed in Jesus Christ. I can not rest till I find God, and have Him revealed to me as my everlasting refuge and strength.
Some years since, I preached a sermon for the purpose of developing the idea of the spiritual life. The minister for whom I preached said to me, I want to show you a letter written many years ago by a lady now in advanced age, and detailing her remarkable experience on this subject. After her conversion she found herself exceedingly weak, and often wondered if this was all the stability and strength she could hope for from Christ in His Gospel. Is this, she said, all that God can do for me? Long time and with much prayer she examined her Bible. At last she found, that below what she had ever read and examined before, there lay a class of passages which revealed the real Gospel -- salvation from sinning. She saw the provisions of the Gospel in full relief. Then she shut herself up, determined to seek this blessing till she should find. Her soul went forth after God, seeking communion with Him, and the great blessing which she so deeply felt that she needed. She had found the needed promises in God's Word, and now she held on upon them as if she could not let them go until they had all been fulfilled in her own joyful experience. She cried mightily to God. She said, "If Thou dost not give me this blessing, I can never believe Thee again." In the issue the Lord showed her that the provisions were already made, and were just as full and as glorious as they needed to be or could be, and that she might receive them by faith if she would. In fact, it was plain that the Spirit of the Lord was pressing upon her acceptance, so that she had only to believe -- to open wide her mouth that it might be filled. She saw and obeyed: then she became firm and strong. Christ had made her free. She was no longer in bondage; her Lord had absolutely enlarged her soul in faith and love, and triumphantly she could exclaim: Glory be to God! Christ hath made me free.
The state of mind expressed by hungering and thirsting is a real hunger and thirst, and terminates for its object upon the bread and water of life. These figures (if indeed they are to be regarded as figures at all) are kept up fully throughout the Bible, and all true Christians can testify to the fitness of the language to express the idea.
I have said that this state of mind implies conversion; for although the awakened sinner may have agonies and convictions, yet he has no clear conceptions of what this union with Christ is, nor does he clearly apprehend the need of a perfectly cleansed heart. He needs some experience of what holiness is, and often he seems also to need to have tasted some of the exceeding bitterness of sin as felt by one who has been near the Lord, before he shall fully apprehend this great spiritual want of being made a partaker indeed of Christ's own perfect righteousness. By righteousness here, we are not to understand something imputed, but something real. It is imparted, not imputed. Christ draws the souls of His people into such union with Himself, that they become "partakers of the divine nature," or as elsewhere expressed, "partakers of His holiness." For this the tried Christian pants. Having had a little taste of it, and then having tasted the bitterness of a relapse into sin, his soul is roused to most intense struggles to realize this blessed union with Christ.
A few words should now be said on what is implied in being filled with this righteousness.
Worldly men incessantly hunger and thirst after worldly good. But attainment never outstrips desire. Hence, they are never filled. There is always a conscious want which no acquisition of this sort of good can satisfy. It is most remarkable that worldly men can never be filled with the things they seek. Well do the Scriptures say -- This desire enlarges itself as hell, and is never satisfied. They really hunger and thirst the more by how much the more they obtain.
Let it be especially remarked that this being filled with righteousness is not perfection in the highest sense of this term. Men often use the term perfection, of that which is absolutely complete -- a state which precludes improvement and beyond which there can be no progress. There can be no such Perfection among Christians in any world -- earth or heaven. It can pertain to no being but God. He, and He alone, is perfect beyond possibility of progress. All else but God are making progress -- the wicked from bad to worse, the righteous from good to better. Instead of making no more progress in heaven, as some suppose, probably the law of progress is in a geometrical ratio; the more they have, the farther they will advance. I have often queried whether this law which seems to prevail here will operate there, viz., of what I may call impulsive progression. Here we notice that the mind from time to time gives itself to most intense exertion to make attainments in holiness. The attainment having been made, the mind for a season reposes, as if it had taken its meal and awaited the natural return of appetite before it should put forth its next great effort. May it not be that the same law of progress obtains even in heaven?
Here we see the operations of this law in the usual Christian progress. Intense longing and desire beget great struggling and earnest prayer; at length the special blessing sought is found, and for the time the soul seems to be filled to overflowing. It seems to be fully satisfied and to have received all it supposed possible and perhaps even more than was ever asked or thought. The soul cries out before the Lord, I did not know there was such fullness in store for Thy people. How wonderful that God should grant it to such an one as myself! The soul finds itself swallowed up and lost in the great depths and riches of such a blessing.
Oh, how the heart pours itself out in the one most expressive petition: "Thy will be done on earth as in heaven!" All prayer is swallowed up in this. And then the praise, the FULLNESS OF PRAISE! All struggle and agony are suspended: the soul seems to demand a rest from prayer that it may pour itself out in one mighty tide of praise. Some suppose that persons in this state will never again experience those longings after a new baptism; but in this they mistake. The meal they have had may last them a considerable time -- longer, perhaps, than Elijah's meal, on the strength of which he went forty days; but the time of comparative hunger will come round again, and they will gird themselves for a new struggle.
This is what is sometimes expressed as a baptism, an anointing, an unction, an ensealing of the Spirit, an earnest of the Spirit. All these terms are pertinent and beautiful to denote this special work of the Divine Spirit in the heart.
They who experience it, know how well and aptly it is described as eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Lord Jesus, so really does the soul seem to live on Christ. It is also the bread and the water of life which are promised freely to him that is athirst. These terms may seem very mystical and unmeaning to those who have had no experience, but they are all plain to him who has known in his own soul what they mean. If you ask why figures of speech are used at all to denote spiritual things, you have the answer in the exigencies of the human mind in regard to apprehending spiritual things. Christ's language must have seemed very mystical to His hearers, yet was it the best He could employ for His purpose. If any man will do His will, he shall know of His doctrine; but how can a selfish, debased, besotted, and withal disobedient mind expect to enter into the spiritual meaning of this language. How strangely must Christ's words have sounded on the ears of Jewish priests: "God in us;" "The Holy Ghost dwelling in you;" "Ye shall abide in Me." How could they understand these things? "The bread that came down from heaven," what could this mean to them? They thought they understood about the manna from heaven, and they idolized Moses; but how to understand what this Nazarene said about giving them the true bread from heaven which should be for the life of the world, they could not see. No wonder they were confounded, having only legal ideas of religion, and having not even the most remote approximation to the idea of a living union with the Messiah for the purposes of spiritual life.
What are the conditions of receiving this fullness?
That the soul hunger and thirst for it, is the only condition specified in this passage. But we know it is very common to have promises made in the Bible, and yet not have all the conditions of the promise stated in the same connection. If we find them elsewhere, we are to regard them as fixed conditions, and they are to be understood as implied where they are not expressed.
Elsewhere we are told that faith is a fundamental condition. Men must believe for it and receive it by faith. This is as naturally necessary as receiving and eating wheat bread is for the sustenance of the body. Ordinary food must be taken into the system by our own voluntary act. We take and eat; then the system appropriates. So faith receives and appropriates the bread of life.
In general it is found true that before Christians will sufficiently apprehend the relations of this supply to their wants and to the means of supplying them, this hunger and thirst becomes very intense, so as to overpower and cast into insignificance all their other appetites and desires. As by a general law one master passion throws all minor ones into the shade, and may sometimes suspend them for a season entirely, so we find in this case a soul intensely hungering and thirsting after righteousness almost forgets to hunger and thirst even after its common food and drinks. Place before him his study-books, he can not bring his mind to relish them now. Invite him to a singing-concert, he has no taste that way at present. Ask him into company, his mind is pressing in another direction. He longs to find God, and can take but little interest in any other friend at present. Offer him worldly society, and you will find he takes the least possible interest in it. He knows such companions will not understand what his soul so intensely craves, and of course it were vain to look for sympathy in that quarter.
It is an important condition that the mind should have somewhat clear apprehensions of the thing needed and of the means of obtaining it. Effort can not be well directed unless the subject be in some good measure understood. What is that ensealing of the Spirit? What is this baptism? I must by all means see what this is before I can intelligently seek it and hope to gain it. True, no man can know before experience as he can and will know afterwards; but he can learn something before and often much more after the light of experience shines in upon his soul. There is no more mystification than there is in hungering for a good dinner, and being refreshed by it after you have eaten it.
Again, if we would have this fullness, we must be sure to believe this promise and all this class of promises. We must regard them as truly promises of God -- all yea and amen in Christ Jesus, and as good for our souls to rely upon as the promise of pardon to the penitent and believing.
Yet again we must ask and insist upon their fulfillment to our souls. We are authorized to expect it in answer to our faith. We should be first certain that we ask in sincerity, and then should expect the blessing just as we always expect God to be faithful to His word. Why not? Has He said and shall He not do it? Has He promised and shall He not perform?
We must believe that the promise implies a full supply. Our faith must not limit the power or the grace of Christ. The Christian is not straitened in God. Let him take care, therefore, that he do not straiten himself by his narrow conceptions of what God can do and loves to do for His hungering and thirsting children. Often there is need of great perseverance in the search for this blessing. Because of the darkness of the mind and the smallness of its faith the way may not for a long time be prepared for the full bestowment of this great blessing.
C. G. FINNEY
END OF SERMONS on GOSPEL THEMES.
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"Sermons from the Penny Pulpit"
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