Charles SpurgeonA Collection of Sermons
Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, stood firmly on the truth of God’s Word in the midst of what he saw to be his compromising generation! Here are a few of his sermons concerning the Person of Jesus Christ and the gospel. Enjoy!
- The Death of Christ #173
- Christ Set Forth as Propitiation #373
- Christ Crucified #7
- Grace Abounding #501
- Preaching: Man's Privilege & God's Power #347
- Our Manifesto #2185
The Death of Christ
Delivered on Sunday Morning, January 24, 1858
By the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon
at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens
“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.”—Isaiah 53:10.
WHAT myriads of eyes are casting their glances at the sun! What multitudes of men lift up their eyes, and behold the starry orbs of heaven! They are continually watched by thousands—but there is one great transaction in the world’s history, which every day commands far more spectators than that sun which goes forth like a bridegroom, strong to run his race. There is one great event, which every day attracts more admiration than do the sun, and moon, and stars, when they march in their courses. That event is, the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. To it, the eyes of all the saints who lived before the Christian era were always directed; and backwards, through the thousand years of history, the eyes of all modern saints are looking. Upon Christ, the angels in heaven perpetually gaze. “Which things the angels desire to look into,” said the apostle. Upon Christ, the myriad eyes of the redeemed are perpetually fixed; and thousands of pilgrims, through this world of tears, have no higher object for their faith, and no better desire for their vision, than to see Christ as he is in heaven, and in communion to behold his person. Beloved, we shall have many with us, whilst this morning we turn our face to the Mount of Calvary. We shall not be solitary spectators of the fearful tragedy of our Savior’s death: we shall but dart our eyes to that place which is the focus of heaven’s joy and delight, the cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Taking our text, then, as a guide, we propose to visit Calvary, hoping to have the help of the Holy Spirit whilst we look upon him who died upon the cross. I would have you notice this morning, first of all, the cause of Christ’s death—”It pleased the Lord to bruise him.” “It pleased Jehovah to bruise him,” says the original; “he hath put him to grief.” Secondly, the reason of Christ’s death—”When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.” Christ died because he was an offering for sin. And then, thirdly, the effects and consequences of Christ’s death. “He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” Come, Sacred Spirit, now, whilst we attempt to speak on these matchless themes.
I. First, we have THE ORIGIN OF CHRIST’S DEATH. “It pleased Jehovah to bruise him; he hath put him to grief.” He who reads Christ’s life, as a mere history, traces the death of Christ to the enmity of the Jews, and to the fickle character of the Roman governor. In this he acts justly, for the crime and sin of the Savior’s death must lay at the door of manhood. This race of ours became a deicide and slew the Lord, and nailed its Savior to a tree. But he who reads the Bible with the eye of faith, desiring to discover its hidden secrets, sees something more in the Savior’s death than Roman cruelty, or Jewish malice: he sees the solemn decree of God fulfilled by men, who were the ignorant, but guilty instruments of its accomplishment. He looks beyond the Roman spear and nail, beyond the Jewish taunt and jeer, up to the Sacred Fount, whence all things flow, and traces the crucifixion of Christ to the breast of Deity. He believes with Peter—”Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” We dare not impute to God the sin, but at the same time the fact, with all its marvelous effects in the world’s redemption, we must ever trace to the Sacred Fountain of divine love. So cloth our prophet. He says, “It pleased Jehovah to bruise him. He overlooks both Pilate and Herod, and traces it to the heavenly Father, the first Person in the Divine Trinity. “It pleased the Lord to bruise him, he hath put him to grief.”
Now, beloved, there be many who think that God the Father is at best but an indifferent spectator of salvation. Others do belie him still more. They look upon Him as an unloving, severe Being, who had no love to the human race, and could only be made loving by the death and agonies of our Savior. Now, this is a foul libel upon the fair and glorious grace of God the Father, to whom for ever be honor: for Jesus Christ did not die to make God loving, but he died because God was loving.
“Twas not to make Jehovah’s love
Toward his people flame,
That Jesus from the throne above,
A suffering man became. “Twas not the death which he endured,
Nor all the pangs he bore,
That God’s eternal love procured,
For God was love before.”
Christ was sent into the world by his Father, as the consequence of the Father’s affection for his people. Yea, he “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. The fact is, that the Father as much decreed salvation, as much effected it, and as much delighted in it, as did either God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit. And when we speak of the Savior of the world, we must always include in that word, if we speak in a large sense, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, for all these three, as one God, do save us from our sins. The text puts away every hard thought concerning the Father, by telling us that it pleased Jehovah to bruise Jesus Christ. The death of Christ is traceable to God the Father. Let us try if we can see it is so.
1. First it is traceable in decree. God, the one God of heaven and earth, hath the book of destiny entirely in his power. In that book there is nothing written by a stranger’s hand. The penmanship of the solemn book of predestination is from beginning to end entirely divine.
“Chained to his throne a volume lies,
With all the fates of men,
With every angel’s form and size
Drawn by th’ eternal pen.”
No inferior hand hath sketched even so much as the least minute parts of providence. It was all, from its Alpha to its Omega, from its divine preface to its solemn finis, marked out, designed, sketched, and planned by the mind of the all-wise, all-knowing God. Hence, not even Christ’s death was exempt from it. He that wings an angel and guides a sparrow, he that protects the hairs of our head from falling prematurely to the ground, was not likely, when he took notice of such little things, to omit in his solemn decrees the greatest wonder of earth’s miracles, the death of Christ. No; the blood-stained page of that book, the page which makes both past and future glorious with golden words,—that blood-stained page, I say, was as much written of Jehovah, as any other. He determined that Christ should be born of the Virgin Mary, that he should suffer under Pontius Pilate, that he should descend into Hades, that thence he should rise again, leading captivity captive, and then should reign for ever at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Nay, I know not but that I shall have Scripture for my warrant when I say, that this is the very core of predestination, and that the death of Christ is the very center and main-spring by which God did fashion all his other decrees, making this the bottom and foundation-stone upon which the sacred architecture should be built. Christ was put to death by the absolute foreknowledge and solemn decree of God the Father, and in this sense “it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief.”
2. But a little further, Christ’s coming into the world to die was the effect of the Father’s will and pleasure. Christ came not into this world unsent. He had laid in Jehovah’s bosom from before all worlds, eternally delighting himself in his Father, and being himself his Father’s eternal joy. “In the fullness of time” God did rend his Son from his bosom, his only-begotten Son, and freely delivered him up for us all. Herein was matchless, peerless love, that the offended judge should permit his co-equal Son to suffer the pains of death for the redemption of a rebellious people. I want your imaginations for one minute to picture a scene of olden times. There is a bearded patriarch, who rises early in the morning and awakes his son, a young man full of strength, and bids him arise and follow him. They hurry from the house silently and noiselessly, before the mother is awake. They go three days, journey with their men; until they come to the Mount, of which the Lord hath spoken. You know the patriarch. The name of Abraham is always fresh in our memories. On the way, that patriarch speaks not one solitary word to his son. His heart is too full for utterance. He is overwhelmed with grief. God has commanded him to take his son, his only son, and slay him upon the mountain as a sacrifice. They go together; and who shall paint the unutterable anguish of the father’s soul, whilst he walks side by side with that beloved son, of whom he is to be the executioner? The third day has arrived; the servants are bidden to stay at the foot of the hill, whilst they go to worship God yonder. Now, can any mind imagine how the father’s grief must overflow all the banks of his soul, when, as he walked up that hill-side, his son said to him, “Father, behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?” Can you conceive how he stifled his emotions, and, with sobs, exclaimed, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb.” See! the father has communicated to his son the fact that God has demanded his life. Isaac, who might have struggled and escaped from his father, declares that he is willing to die, if God hath decreed it. The father takes his son, binds his hands behind his back, piles up the stones, makes an altar, lays the wood, and has his fire ready. And now where is the artist that can depict the anguish of the fathers countenance, when the knife is unsheathed, and he holds it up, ready to slay his son? But here the curtain falls. Now the black scene vanishes at the sound of a voice from heaven. The ram caught in the thicket supplies the substitute, and faith’s obedience need go no further. Ah! my brethren, I want to take you from this scene to a far greater one. What faith and obedience made man do, that love constrained God himself to do. He had but one son, that son his own heart’s delight: he covenanted to yield him up for our redemption, nor did he violate his promise; for, when the fullness of time was come, he sent his Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, that he might suffer for the sins of man. O! can ye tell the greatness of that love, which made the everlasting God not only put his Son upon the altar, but actually do the deed, and thrust the sacrificial knife into his Son’s heart? Can you think how overwhelming must have been the love of God toward the human race, when he completed in act what Abraham only did in intention? Look ye there, and see the place where his only Son hung dead upon the cross, the bleeding victim of awakened justice! Here is love indeed; and here we see how it was, that it pleased the Father to bruise him.
3. This allows me to push my text just one point further. Beloved, it is not only true that God did design and did permit with willingness the death of Christ; it is moreover, true that the unutterable agonies that clothed the death of the Savior with superhuman terror, were the effect of the Father’s bruising of Christ in very act and deed. There is a martyr in prison: the chains are on his wrists, and yet he sings. It has been announced to him that to-morrow is his burning day. He claps his hands right merrily, and smiles while he says, “It will be sharp work to-morrow, I shall breakfast below on fiery tribulations, but afterward I will sup with Christ. Tomorrow is my wedding-day, the day for which I have long panted, when I shall sign the testimony of my life by a glorious deaths.” The time is come; the men with the halberts precede him through the streets. Mark the serenity of the martyrs countenance. He turns to some who look upon him, and exclaims, “I value these iron chains far more than if they had been of gold; it is a sweet thing to die for Christ. There are a few of the boldest of the saints gathered round the stake, and as he disrobes, ere he stands upon the fagots to receive his doom, he tells them that it is a joyous thing to be a soldier of Christ, to be allowed to give his body to be burned; and he shakes hands with them, and bids them “Good by” with merry cheer. One would think he were going to a bridal, rather than to be burned. He steps upon the fagots; the chain is put about his middle; and after a brief word of prayer, as soon as the fire begins to ascend, he speaks to the people with manful boldness. But hark! he sings whilst the fagots are crackling and the smoke is blowing upward. He sings, and when his nether parts are burned, he still goes on chanting sweetly some psalm of old. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”
Picture another scene. There is the Savior going to his cross, all weak and wan with suffering; his soul is sick and sad within him. There is no divine composure there. So sad is his heart, that he faints in the streets. The Son of God faints beneath a cross that many a criminal might have carried. They nail him to the tree. There is no song of praise. He is lifted up in the air, and there he hangs preparatory to his death. You hear no shout of exultation. There is a stern compression of his face, as if unutterable agony were tearing his heart—as if over again Gethsemane were being acted on the cross—as if his soul were still saying, “If it be possible let this cross pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Hark! he speaks. Will he not sing sweeter songs than ever came from martyr’s lips? Ah! no; it is an awful wail of woe that can never be imitated. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The martyrs said not that: God was with them. Confessors of old cried not so, when they came to die. They shouted in their fires, and praised God on their racks. Why this? Why doth the Savior suffer so? Why, beloved, it was because the Father bruised him. That sunshine of God’s countenance that has cheered many a dying saint, was withdrawn from Christ; the consciousness of acceptance with God, which has made many a holy man espouse the cross with joy, was not afforded to our Redeemer, and therefore he suffered in thick darkness of mental agony. Read the 22nd Psalm, and learn how Jesus suffered. Pause over the solemn words in the 1st, 2nd, 6th, and following verses. Underneath the church are the ever lasting arms; but underneath Christ there were no arms at all, but his Father’s hand pressed heavily against him; the upper and the nether mill-stones of divine wrath pressed and bruised him; and not one drop of joy or consolation was afforded to him. “It pleased Jehovah to bruise him; he hath put him to grief.” This, my brethren, was the climax of the Savior’s woe, that his Father turned away from him, and put him to grief.
Thus have I expounded the first part of the subject—the origin of our Savior’s worst sufferings, the Father’s pleasure.
II. Our second head must explain the first, or otherwise it is an insolvable mystery how God should bruise his Son, who was perfect innocence, while poor fallible confessors and martyrs have had no such bruising from him in the time of their trial. WHAT WAS THE REASON OF THE SAVIOUR’S SUFFERING? We are told here, “Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.” Christ was thus troubled, because his soul was an offering for sin. Now, I am going to be as plain as I can, while I preach over again the precious doctrine of the atonement of Christ Jesus our Lord. Christ was an offering for sin, in the sense of a substitute. God longed to save; but, if such a word may be allowed, Justice tied his hands. “I must be just,” said God; “that is a necessity of my nature. Stern as fate, and fast as immutability, is the truth that I must be just. But then my heart desires to forgive—to pass by man’s transgressions and pardon them. How can it be done? Wisdom stepped in, and said, “It shall be done thus;” and Love agreed with Wisdom. “Christ Jesus, the Son of God, shall stand in man’s place, and he shall be offered upon Mount Calvary instead of man. Now, mark: when you see Christ going up the Mount of Doom, you see man going there: when you see Christ hurled upon his back, upon the wooden cross, you see the whole company of his elect there; and when you see the nails driven through his blessed hands and feet, it is the whole body of his Church who there, in their substitute, are nailed to the tree. And now the soldiers lift the cross, and dash it into the socket prepared for it. His bones are every one of them dislocated, and his body is thus torn with agonies which can not be described. ‘Tis manhood suffering there; ’tis the Church suffering there, in the substitute. And when Christ dies, you are to look upon the death of Christ, not as his own dying merely, but as the dying of all those for whom he stood as the scapegoat and the substitute. It is true, Christ died really himself; it is equally true that he did not die for himself, but died as the substitute, in the room, place, and stead of all believers. When you die you will die for yourselves; when Christ died, he died for you, if you be a believer in him. When you pass through the gates of the grave, you go there solitary and alone; you are not the representative of a body of men, but you pass through the gates of death as an individual; but, remember, when Christ went through the sufferings of death, he was the representative Head of all his people.
Understand, then, the sense in which Christ was made a sacrifice for sin. But here lies the glory of this matter. It was as a substitute for sin that he did actually and literally suffer punishment for the sin of all his elect. When I say this, I am not to be understood as using any figure whatever, but as saying actually what I mean. Man for his sin was condemned to eternal fire; when God took Christ to be the substitute, it is true, he did not send Christ into eternal fire, but he poured upon him grief so desperate, that it was a valid payment for even an eternity of fire. Man was condemned to live forever in hell. God did not send Christ forever into hell; but he put on Christ, punishment that was equivalent for that. Although he did not give Christ to drink the actual hells of believers, yet he gave him a quid pro quo—something that was equivalent thereunto. He took the cup of Christ’s agony, and he put in there, suffering, misery, and anguish such as only God can imagine or dream of, that was the exact equivalent for all the suffering, all the woe, and all the eternal tortures of every one that shall at last stand in heaven, bought with the blood of Christ. And you say, “Did Christ drink it all to its dregs?” Did he suffer it all? Yes, my brethren, he took the cup, and
“At one triumphant draught of love,
He drank damnation dry.”
He suffered all the horror of hell: in one pelting shower of iron wrath it fell upon him, with hail-stones bigger than a talent; and he stood until the black cloud had emptied itself completely. There was our debt; huge and immense; he paid the utmost farthing of whatever his people owed; and now there is not so much as a doit or a farthing due to the justice of God in the way of punishment from any believer; and though we owe God gratitude, though we owe much to his love, we owe nothing to his justice; for Christ in that hour took all our sins, past, present, and to come, and was punished for them all there and then, that we might never be punished, because he suffered in our stead. Do you see, then, how it was that God the Father bruised him? Unless he had so done the agonies of Christ could not have been an equivalent for our sufferings; for hell consists in the hiding of God’s face from sinners, and if God had not hidden his face from Christ, Christ could not—I see not how he could—have endured any suffering that could have been accepted as an equivalent for the woes and agonies of his people.
Methinks I heard some one say, “Do you mean us to understand this atonement that you have now preached as being a literal fact?” I say, most solemnly, I do. There are in the world many theories of atonement; but I can not see any atonement in any one, except in this doctrine of substitution. Many divines say that Christ did something when he died that enabled God to be just, and yet the Justifier of the ungodly. What that something is they do not tell us. They believe in an atonement made for every body; but then, their atonement is just this. They believe that Judas was atoned for just as much as Peter; they believe that the damned in hell were as much an object of Jesus Christ’s satisfaction as the saved in heaven; and though they do not say it in proper words, yet they must mean it, for it is a fair inference, that in the case of multitudes, Christ died in vain, for he died for them all, they say; and yet so ineffectual was his dying for them, that though he died for them they are damned afterward. Now, such an atonement I despise—I reject it. I may be called Antinomian or Calvinist for preaching a limited atonement; but I had rather believe a limited atonement that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than an universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody, except the will of man be joined with it. Why, my brethren, if we were only so far atoned for by the death of Christ that any one of us might afterward save himself, Christ’s atonement were not worth a farthing, for there is no man of us can save himself—no, not under the gospel; for if I am to be saved by faith, if that faith is to be my own act, unassisted by the Holy Spirit, I am as unable to save myself by faith as to save myself by good works. And after all, though men call this a limited atonement, it is as effectual as their own fallacious and rotten redemptions can pretend to be. But do you know the limit of it? Christ hath bought a “multitude that no man can number.” The limit of it is just this: He hath died for sinners; whoever in this congregation inwardly and sorrowfully knows himself to be a sinner, Christ died for him; whoever seeks Christ, shall know Christ died for him; for our sense of need of Christ, and our seeking after Christ, are infallible proofs that Christ died for us.
And, mark, here is something substantial. The Arminian says Christ died for him; and then, poor man, he has but small consolation therein, for he says, “Ah! Christ died for me; that does not prove much. It only proves I may be saved if I mind what I am after. I may perhaps forget myself; I may run into sin and I may perish. Christ has done a good deal for me, but not quite enough, unless I do something.” But the man who receives the Bible as it is, he says, “Christ died for me, then my eternal life is sure. I know,” says he, “that Christ can not be punished in a man’s stead, and the man be punished afterwards. No,” says he, “I believe in a just God, and if God be just, he will not punish Christ first, and then punish men afterwards. No; my Savior died, and now I am free from every demand of God’s vengeance, and I can walk through this world secure; no thunderbolt can smite me, and I can die absolutely certain that for me there is no flame of hell, and no pit dug; for Christ, my ransom, suffered in my stead, and, therefore, am I clean delivered. Oh! glorious doctrine! I would wish to die preaching it! What better testimony can we bear to the love and faithfulness of God than the testimony of a substitution eminently satisfactory for all them that believe on Christ? I will here quote the testimony of that pre-eminently profound divine, Dr. John Owen:—”Redemption is the freeing of a man from misery by the intervention of a ransom. Now, when a ransom is paid for the liberty of a prisoner, does not justice demand that he should have and enjoy the liberty so purchased for him by a valuable consideration? If I should pay a thousand pounds for a man’s deliverance from bondage to him that retains him, who hath power to set him free, and is contented with the price I give, were it not injurious to me and the poor prisoner that his deliverance be not accomplished? Can it possibly be conceived that there should be a redemption of men, and those men not redeemed? That a price should be paid and the ransom not consummated? Yet all this must be made true, and innumerable other absurdities, if universal redemption be asserted. A price is paid for all, yet few delivered; the redemption of all consummated, yet, few of them redeemed; the judge satisfied, the jailer conquered, and yet the prisoners enthralled! Doubtless ‘universal,’ and ‘redemption,’ where the greatest part of men perish, are as irreconcilable as ‘Roman, and ‘Catholic.’ If there be a universal redemption of all, then all men are redeemed. If they are redeemed, then are they delivered from all misery, virtually or actually, whereunto they were enthralled, and that by the intervention of a ransom. Why, then, are not all saved? In a word, the redemption wrought by Christ being the full deliverance of the persons redeemed from all misery, wherein they were enwrapped, by the price of his blood, it can not possibly be conceived to be universal unless all be saved: so that the opinion of the universalist is unsuitable to redemption.”
I pause once more; for I hear some timid soul say—”But, sir, I am afraid I am not elect, and if so, Christ did not die for me.” Stop sir! Are you a sinner? Do you feel it? Has God, the Holy Spirit, made you feel that you are a lost sinner? Do you want salvation? If you do not want it it is no hardship that it is not provided for you; but if you really feel that you want it, you are God’s elect. If you have a desire to be saved, a desire given you by the Holy Spirit, that desire is a token for good. If you have begun believingly to pray for salvation, you have therein a sure evidence that you are saved. Christ was punished for you. And if now you can say,
“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling.”
you may be as sure you are God’s elect as you are sure of your own existence; for this is the infallible proof of election—a sense of need and a thirst after Christ.
III. And now I have just to conclude by noticing the BLESSED EFFECTS of the Savior’s death. On this I shall be very brief.
The first effect of the Savior’s death is, “He shall see his seed.” Men shall be saved by Christ. Men have offspring by life; Christ had an offspring by death. Men die and leave their children, and they see not their seed; Christ lives, and every day sees his seed brought into the unity of the faith. One effect of Christ’s death is the salvation of multitudes. Mark, not a chance salvation. When Christ died the angel did not say, as some have represented him, “Now by his death many may be saved;” the word of prophecy had quenched all “buts” and “peradventures;” “By his righteousness he shall justify many. There was not so much as an atom of chance work in the Savior’s death. Christ knew what he bought when he died; and what he bought he will have—that, and no more, and no less. There is no effect of Christ’s death that is left to peradventure. “Shalls” and “wills” made the covenant fast: Christ’s bloody death shall effect its solemn purpose. Every heir of grace shall meet around the throne,
“Shall bless the wonders of his grace,
And make his glories known.”
The second effect of Christ’s death is, “He shall prolong his days.” Yes, bless his name, when he died he did not end his life. He could not long be held a prisoner in the tomb. The third morning came, and the conqueror, rising from his sleep burst the iron bonds of death, and came forth from his prison house, no more to die. He waited his forty days, and then, with shouts of sacred song, he “led captivity captive, and ascended up on high.” “In that he died he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth he liveth unto God,” no more to die.
“Now by his Father’s side he Sits,
And there triumphant reigns,
the conqueror over death and hell.”
And, last of all, by Christ’s death the Father’s good pleasure was effected and prospered. God’s good pleasure is, that that this world shall one day be totally redeemed from sin; God’s good pleasure is, that this poor planet, so long swathed in darkness, shall soon shine out in brightness, like a new-born sun. Christ’s death hath done it. The stream that flowed from his side on Calvary shall cleanse the world from all its blackness. That hour of mid-day darkness was the rising of a new sun of righteousness, which shall never cease to shine upon the earth. Yes, the hour is coming when swords and spears shall be forgotten things—when the harness of war and the pageantry of pomp shall all be laid aside for the food of the worm or the contemplation of the curious. The hour approacheth when old Rome shall shake upon her seven hills, when Mohammed’s crescent shall wane to wax no more, when all the gods of the heathens shall lose their thrones and be cast out to the moles and the bats; and then, when from the equator to the poles Christ shall be honored, the Lord paramount of earth, when from land to land, from the river even to the ends of the earth, one King shall reign, one shout shall be raised, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.” Then, my brethren, shall it be seen what Christ’s death has accomplished, for “the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.”
Christ Set Forth As A Propitiation
DELIVERED ON GOOD FRIDAY MORNING, MARCH 29, 1861
By the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon
At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
“Christ Jesus whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood” Romans 3:25
We commenced the services in this place by the declaration that here Christ shall be preached. Our Brother who followed us expressed his joy that Christ was preached herein. He did rejoice, yes, and would rejoice and our friends must have observed how throughout the other services there has been a most blessed admixture not only of the true spirit of Christ but of pointed and admirable reference to the glories and beauties of His Person.
This morning, which is the beginning of our more regular and constant ministry we come again to the same noble theme. Christ Jesus is today to be set forth. You will not charge me for repeating myself—you will not look up to the pulpit and say, “Pulpits are places of tautology.” You will not reply that you have heard this story so often that you have grown weary of it, for well I know that with you the Person, the Character and the work of Christ are always fresh themes for wonder. We have seen the sea, some of us hundreds of times and what an abiding sameness there is in its deep green surface—but who ever called the sea monotonous?
Traveling over it as the mariner does, sometimes by the year together, there is always a freshness in the undulation of the waves, the whiteness of the foam of the breaker, the curl of the crested billow and the frolicsome pursuit of every wave by its long train of brothers. Which of us has ever complained that the sun gave us but little variety—that at morn he yoked the same steeds and flashed from his ear the same golden glory, climbed with dull uniformity the summit of the skies, then drove his chariot downward and bade his flaming coursers steep their burning hooves in the western deep?
Who among us has complained of the monotony of the bread that we eat? We eat it today, tomorrow, the next day, we have eaten it for years that are passed and though we have other savory matters therewith, yet still the one unvarying food is served upon the table and the bread remains the staff of life. Surely I know that as Christ is your food and your spiritual bread—Christ is your sun, your heavenly light. As Christ is the sea of love in which your passions swim and all your joys are found, it is not possible that you as Christian men and women should complain of a monotony in Him. “He is the same yesterday, today and forever,” and yet He has the dew of His youth.
He is the manna in the golden pot which was always the same, but He is the manna which came from Heaven which was every morning new. He is the rod of Moses which was dry and changed not its shape, but He is also to us the rod of Aaron which buds and blossoms and brings forth almonds. I come, then, now to preach Christ crucified, as God has set Him forth to be a propitiation for us through faith in His blood.
To begin at once, then, we shall notice first, what is meant here by God’s setting forth Christ as propitiation.
Secondly, we shall dwell upon the Truth which may very naturally be drawn from the first—Christ the propitiation, as looked upon by the believer. And then, thirdly, putting the two together, I mean inverting the two thoughts, we shall look at Christ as set forth by us and looked upon by God.
I. First then, the text says of Christ Jesus, “WHOM GOD HAS SET FORTH TO BE A PROPITIATION THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD.”
The words “set forth” in the original may signify “foreordained.” But according to eminent critics it has also in it the idea of setting forth as well as a “fore-ordaining.” Barnes says, “The word properly means to place in public view. To exhibit in a conspicuous situation, as goods are exhibited or exposed for sale, or as premiums or rewards of victory were exhibited to public view in the games of the Greeks.” So has God the Father set forth, manifested, made conspicuous the Person of the Lord Jesus as the propitiation of sin.
How has He done this? He has done it first by ordaining Him in the Divine decree as the propitiation of sin. Christ did not take upon Himself the office of High Priest without being chosen thereunto as was Aaron. As surely as every member of Christ’s body is elect according to the foreknowledge of God, as certainly as in God’s Book all His members were written which in continuance were fashioned when as yet there was none of them, so certainly was the Head Himself ordained the chosen of God. As our poet puts it—
“Christ be My first elect He said
Then chose our souls in Christ our Head.”
Perhaps some might say there could be no election where there was no room for choice. But how do we know that there was no room for choice? We can scarce imagine that angel or archangel could have been set forth as propitiation for sin. Who can tell whether the Almighty mind might not have devised another plan? Who shall dare to limit the Holy One of Israel? At any rate there was this choice between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Divine Wisdom conjoined with Divine Sovereignty and chose and appointed and determined that Christ Jesus, the Second of the Mysterious Three, should be the propitiation for our sins.
When Christ comes into the world, He comes as One of whom all eternity had spoken—He is the Child born—born from the womb of destiny. He is the Lamb whom God had appointed from before the foundation of the world. Long before this world was made, or Adam fell, Christ had been set forth. In the volume of the Book it had been written of Him, “I delight to do Your will, O God.” I think those who are afraid of looking back upon the great decrees of God because they say they are secrets have a fear where no fear is appropriate. There is never fear, my Brethren, of our meddling with secret things. If they are secret, it is quite certain that we shall not meddle with them. Only let it be announced once and for all that they are secret and there is no one whocan betray the secrets of God.
But things that are revealed belong to us and to our children and this is one of the things that is revealed, this is the decree and we will declare it. The Lord said unto Christ, “You are My Son, this day have I begotten You and He has said unto Him moreover, I will make Him My First-born, higher than the kings of the earth.” And all this that He may be the “propitiation for our sins by faith in His blood.”
And next, God had set forth Christ to be a propitiation for sinsin His promises before the advent. Did He not set Him forth most plainly in the garden where we fell? Was He not plainly revealed afterwards in the ark in which Noah was saved? Did not God speak constantly, not only by verbal promises, but by typical promises, which are just as sure and certain as those which are spoken in words? Did He not to a hundred seers and to multitudes of holy men and women, constantly reveal the coming of Him who should bruise the serpent’s head and deliver His people from the power of the curse?
It is wonderful to see how engaged the Holy Spirit was through every age and era in ordaining types, in bringing forth representations and symbols in which Christ should be set forth as being the appointed propitiation for sins through faith in His blood. But the great setting forth was the actual doing of the deed when Jesus Christ came forth from the chambers of mystery and revealed Himself in the manger—when God set Him forth by angelic messengers appointed to be His attendants—set Him forth by the star in the East which should guide the distant strangers to the place where the young Child was.
He set Him forth afterwards by preserving His life in the midst of imminent perils, fulfilling promises made concerning His infancy in the place where He was hidden from Herod’s fury and in the spot where He was educated and brought up. Throughout the life of Christ, how constantly did His Father set Him forth! The voice of God was in the voice of John—“Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.” And on the Cross itself, “when it pleased the Father to bruise Him and put Him to grief,” what an exhibition was there of Christ to the eye of Jew and Gentile, of prince and peasant, of the learned Greek, of the ruler Roman—that God had appointed Christ to be the full propitiation for sin.
I think, my dear Friends, while we must always regard the Cross as being the representation of Christ’s love to His Church, we must also view it as being God setting forth to man the way by which He will accept man, pardon his sin, hear his prayer and be reconciled with His erring creatures.
But, O my dear Friends, this is not all, God the Father set forth Christ since then by signs following. What a setting forth that was of Christ the Propitiator, when the Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost! And what have all conversions been since then? Have they not been repeated seals to the testimony that Christ is the appointed Redeemer of men and that through Him the faithful are justified and accepted? You, I trust—many of you—had such a special setting forth of Christ in your own hearts. You can set your seal to the text before us for Him has God set forth in you as being the propitiation.
By effectual grace your eyes have been opened—by infinite love your stubborn heart has been melted. You have been turned from every other hope and every other refuge. You have seen Christ to be the Power of God and the Wisdom of God. Constrained by an omnipotent influence which you neither could nor would resist you have received Him as the Sent of God, have taken Him as being God’s Messiah and your only refuge. God in you, then, has graciously fulfilled the text, “Him has God set forth to be a propitiation.”
But now, to change the subject for a moment and yet to continue on the same point—what is it that God has so manifestly set forth? We have seen how he has done it—we turn now to what? Sinner, listen and if you have already accepted that which the Father has revealed, let your joy become full. God has set forth Christ as being a propitiation. The Greek word has it ilasthrion which, being translated, may mean a mercy seat or a covering. Now God has said to the sinner, “Do you desire to meet Me? Would you be no longer My enemy? Would you tell Me your sorrows? Would you receive My blessing? Would you establish a commerce between your Creator and your soul? I set forth Christ to you as being the Mercy Seat, where I can meet with you and you can meet with Me.”
Or take the word as signifying a covering—as the mercy seat covered the tables of the Law and so covered that which was the cause of Divine ire, because we had broken His commandment. “Would you have anything which can cover your sin? Cover it from Me, your God, so that I need not be provoked to anger? Cover it from you so that you need not be cowed with excessive fear and tremble to approach Me as you did when I came in thunder and lightning upon Sinai?
Would you have a shelter which shall hide altogether your sins and your iniquities? I set it forth to you in the Person of My bleeding Son. Trust in His blood and your sin is covered from My eyes—no, it shall be covered from your own eyes, too. And being justified by faith, you shall have peace with God through Jesus Christ your Lord.”
Oh that we may have grace to accept now what God the Father sets forth! The Romish priest sets forth this and that, our own Romish hearts set forth such-and-such-another thing but God sets forth Christ. The preacher of doctrine sets forth a dogma. The preacher of experience sets forth a feeling. The preacher of practice often sets forth an effort. But God puts before you Christ. “Here will I meet with you. This is the place of My rest—glorious to Me, safe to you. Come to Christ! Come to Christ and you will come to Me.” The Lord Almighty comes to Christ and there He comes to you. God, then, has set forth Christ Jesus—made Him conspicuous as being the mercy seat and the great hider of sin.
What has He set forth? He has set forth Christ before every one of you, in the daily preaching of the Word and in yon Inspired Book as His anointed to do His work, suffering in the place of all who believe on Him. He has set Him forth as nailed to Calvary’s Cross that your sins might be nailed there. Set Him forth as dying, that your sins might die—no, buried that your iniquities might be buried—risen, that you might rise to newness of life. Ascended, that you might ascend to God. Received in triumph, that you might be received in triumph, too. Made to reign, that you might reign in Him forever loved, forever crowned, that you in Him may be forever loved and forever crowned, too.
Christ has God the Father set forth, that by faith in His blood your sins being put away, you might enjoy the blessing of complete justification. “Who is he that condemns, Christ has died, yes rather, has risen again and sits at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Thus, then and in these respects, has God the Father set forth Christ.
II. And now I proceed in the second place—and may the Spirit of God descend more visibly into our midst than at present—to speak upon a duty, a privilege rather, which so naturally rises out of God’s having shown forth His Son as being the propitiation through faith in His blood. That privilege is that WE SHOULD LOOK TO CHRIST AND LOOK TO CHRIST ALONE AS THE PROPITIATION FOR OUR SINS AND TAKE CARE THAT OUR FAITH IS SIMPLE AND FIXED SOLELY ON HIS PRECIOUS BLOOD.
A very common mistake is to look to our sense of need as being at least in some degree a propitiation for sin. Repentance is an absolute duty and a Christian grace—a grace without which there can he no salvation. But there has been a strong temptation upon many minds to make repentance a preparation for Christ and to regard a sense of need as being a kind of wedding garment in which they may approach the Savior. How many read that promise, “Come unto Me all you that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest,” and they fondly imagine that if they could be more weary and more heavily laden then they would have rest?
Whereas, being weary and heavy laden gives no man rest. It iscoming to Christ that gives him rest. It is not the being weary and the being heavy laden. And I have known some ministers who preach what is called a deep experience and law work and preach very rightly, too, because many of the people of God have to endure this. But I think they lead the people into error, for the people imagine that this law-work, this deep experience has something to do with the propitiation of their sins. Now, my Hearers, the sins of God’s people are taken away by the blood of Christ and not by any repentance of their own.
I have already guarded my statement and now I will make it as bold as possible. I say that repentance of sin does in no way contributes to the removal of that sin meritoriously. I say that our sense of need does not take away our guilt, nor help to take it away. But the blood, the blood, the blood alone, pure and unmixed, has forever washed the people of God and made them whiter than snow. So, poor Heart, if your soul is as hard as a nether millstone, if your conscience seems to yourself to be seared by long habits of sin, if you cannot force tears from your eyes and scarcely can get a groan from your heart—yet you are groaning today because you cannot groan, weeping because you cannot weep and sorrowing because you cannot sorrow—hear you, then, this Gospel message. God the Father has set Christ forth to be your propitiation!
Not your tender conscience, not your groans, not your sense of need, not your law-work, not your deep experience. He is enough without any of these—have faith in His blood and you are saved!
But again—many have fallen into another mistake. They make their propitiation depend upon their evidences. I would be the last to say, “Away with evidences, away with evidences,” for they are good things in their proper place. But there are too many persons who always judge of their past conversion and ultimate salvation by present evidence. Judge Brethren, whether you could ever form a proper estimate of the world by its appearance on any one day. If I had taken you out a month ago into the fields, you would have declared that the trees were dead. What signs of life would you have perceived? The bulbs were buried in the ground—you might have taken a solemn oath that flowers were banished and you might have imagined that because there were none, there never would be any.
But what was your evidence of the world’s state worth? Look at it now—the buds are bursting on the trees. The flowers are springing from the sod. Everything is hastening on towards spring and summer. Why as it is absurd and ridiculous for us to judge of the world’s estate by the fact that there was a cloud today and there was a shower of rain yesterday and therefore infer that the sun has lost its force and will never shine—it is just as ridiculous to judge of our standing before God by our present standing, according to our evidences on some one day.
The right way to read evidences is this. First, my Soul, whether you are saved or not, look to Christ as a poor guilty sinner. When you have done this, then read your evidences—then—not till then. Then the blessed evidence will be a confirmation.
The witness of the Spirit will confirm your faith. But if you look to your evidences first you will be foolish indeed. It is as in a reflector—first, let us have the light, then will the reflector be of use to us to increase and reflect back the light. But I take my reflector into a dark place and look for light in it, I shall find none. I must first see to the light itself and then to the reflection of it.
Our graces are the reflection of Christ’s love. They are the tokens of it but we had better go to Christ first and then look to the tokens afterwards. I am sure if you, as a spouse, had offended your husband you would find but very sorry comfort in looking at those little tokens of love which in the past he had conferred on you. You would go to him first, ask him whether his love was still firm, whether he had forgiven the fault and when you had received the assurance of his unabated and pure affection, could you go upstairs to the secret drawer and look over the love notes and the love tokens— but they would have afforded you sorry comfort before.
So with any child who has been chastened by his parent—if he thinks that his father is angry with him he will not, if he is a wise child, a simple-hearted child, go up to the nursery and look at the gifts which his father gave him—but going to his father’s knee he will look up, with a tear in his eye and say, “Father do you love me? Can you forgive your child?” And, when he has had the personal token, the kiss of acceptance, then may the child go back and see in every mouthful that he eats and every garment which he wears, the sure token of his father’s continued affection. Evidences are good as second things, but as first things they are usurpers and may prove anti-Christs to Christ.
Whatever my evidences may say, if I believe in the precious blood, there is not a sin against me in God’s Book and in the teeth of everything which might make me tremble—
“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that His blood was shed for me
And that He bids me come,”
I come again and come afresh to Him whom God has set forth to be the propitiation for our sins. Friends, I may surprise you by what I am about to say, but there is another fault into which we sometimes fall, namely, looking to God’s promises instead of looking to Christ as the propitiation of sin. The text does not say that God the Father has set forth promises. Indeed He has given us exceedingly great and precious promises and they are true in Christ. We often err by going to promises instead of going to Christ. I know many Christians who, when they are in distress, take up the Bible to find a promise—a very good and a very admirable plan, if, mark—it is preceded by something else. It they go to Christ first, they may come to the promise afterwards. “Yes,” says one, “but suppose a promise is fulfilled.” Very good. You have comfort out of it, but I say suppose the promise is not fulfilled? What then? Why it is just as sure for all that—whether the promise is fulfilled or not. Fulfillment is not my duty—my business is to take Christ whom God the Father has set forth as the propitiation of my sins and if in searching this Book through there is not a single promise which I dare lay hold of, if I cannot find one bottle filled with the rich wine of consolation—if I can lay hold on no bunch of the grapes of Eshcol, still, God the Father has set forth Christ whatever else He has not set forth—and my eye looks to Christ and to Christ alone, There is a man who very much desires an estate. At the same time his heart is smitten with the beauty of some fair heiress. He gets the title deeds of her estate. Well, the title deeds are good, but the estates are not his though he has got the title deeds. By-and-by he marries the lady and everything is his own. Get the heiress and you have got the estate. It is so in Christ—promises are the title-deeds of His estates. A man may get the promise and not get Christ and then they will be of no more use to him than the deeds of another man’s estate would be to me, if I am not the lawful proprietor.
But when my soul is married unto Christ, then I am heir of all things in Him and with Him. Why, Christian, what right have you to say, “that promise is not mine because it is not fulfilled.” Your right to the promise does not lie in its being fulfilled, nor yet in your power to lay hold of it. Every promise that is in the Bible belongs to every man who is in Christ and belongs to him as much one day as another day, because Christ is his at all times, evermore the same. Oh, I do not know whether I can put this exactly as I mean it. What I mean is that the devil has often tempted me with, “You have not had a promise sent home to your heart for months, you are no child of God, you cannot get that sweetness out of such-and-such a passage that some men can.”
I reply to Satan in this way, “Well, God has never said He has set forth the promise to be a propitiation through faith but He has set forth Christ and my soul accepts that which God has set forth and if ever a promise is applied to me, the promise is mine for all that and in faith I will lay hold on it and defy you to rob me of it when my soul has laid hold on Christ.” Oh, that we lived more on Christ and less on anything but Christ—nearer to Christ’s Person, more surely resting on Christ’s blood—more simply accepting Him as our All in All.
I have not yet done on this second head—A remark or two suggest themselves to me now. God has set forth Christ to be the propitiation through faith in His blood and we ought to accept Christ as being an all-sufficient propitiation. I believe in Christ today. But if some sin lies upon my conscience and I am worried and troubled about it, ought I not to perceive at once that I have failed to accept Christ as an all-sufficient propitiation? Whether my sin is little or it is great, whether it is fresh or old, it is the same sin and blessed be God, it has all been atoned for through Christ the propitiation!
We ought to take Christ as being the death of every sin and of all sin—as having expunged and wiped out the great debt as well as the little—the ten thousand talents as well as the one hundred pence. We have never gotten the full idea of Christ till we know that every sin of thought, of word, of deed that the believer has ever been guilty of finds its death, its drowning, its total annihilation in the propitiation which God has set forth. Oh, we want to come where Kent was, when he said—
“Now free from sin I walk at large
My Savior’s blood’s my full discharge.
At His dear feet my soul I lay
A sinner saved and homage pay.”
Well, but when we have come as far as this we need to add a second thought. God has set forth Christ to be not only an all-sufficient but an immutable propitiation for sin. Christ is as much my soul’s propitiation when my soul has fallen into sin as when I have stood firm and resisted temptation, if I am a believer. “That is putting it,” you say, “in a bold and almost Antinomian way.” I cannot help it. It is true—it is true that the propitiation of Christ is never more, never less.
It cannot be more, it is complete. It cannot be less, for it is the same yesterday, today and forever. That man who has been washed in blood is spotless. His doubts and fears have not spoiled his appearance. His powerlessness yesterday in prayer, his despondency a week ago, his all but complete unbelief last month do not mar the perfection of Jesus’ righteousness—do not take away from the complete achievement of the pardon of his sin by precious blood. I do believe and hold and rejoice in that precious Truth—that our standing before God, when we have believed in Jesus—depends no more upon our frames and our feelings than the sun itself in its native glory depends upon the clouds and darkness that are here below.
The same—the same in all its splendor, the same undimmed, as full of glory, as full of majesty, the righteousness and blood of Christ abides. And we, standing before God in Him—not in ourselves, are ever complete in Him. Ever accepted in the Beloved—never more so, never less so. “Strong meat this,” says one. Be it strong—nothing short of this will ever satisfy the tried Christian in the hour when sin rolls over his head. If any man can make a bad use of the doctrine of the real substitution of Christ and the standing of Christ’s people in Christ’s place every day—if any man can make a licentious use of that, his damnation is just. He has no part nor lot in this matter.
But I know this—I am not to be restrained from the comfort of a doctrine because some licentious vagabond chooses to destroy his soul with it. Still there stands the glorious Truth. And nothing short of this is the full glory of Christ’s atonement—that when once He shed His blood and when once that blood has been applied to us, by it and it alone we stand completely pure and are as pure one day as another day—perfect, complete accepted, made secure and safe in Christ Jesus the Lord. “Him has God the Father set forth to be a propitiation for sin.” My soul accepts Him today as it did yesterday and knows that the sin is put away forever.
III. Now I shall come to my third and last point. Turn the thoughts over. We have said God sets forth Christ and we looked at Him. Now, as a matter of duty and privilege, we must SET FORTH CHRIST and GOD WILL LOOK AT HIM. The preacher, standing here as he does today before this immense assembly knows that without God’s looking upon the ministry it will be vain and void. How shall God’s eye be secured? How shall His presence be guaranteed? If in this pulpit Christ is set forth, God will look down upon that Christ set forth and honor and bless the Word. Brethren, I might preach clear doctrine, but God might never looks down upon doctrine. For I could point you to churches with a tear in my eye, because I am able to do so, where conversions are rare things. The doctrine is high, high enough—perhaps so high as to have become putrid.
I will not say that, but I do know some churches where there has not been an addition to the church by the stretch of ten or a dozen years together and I have known the reason. Christ was not set forth and therefore God did not look down on what was set forth. I have known, too, churches—and with equal sorrow do I mention them—where practice has been preached, but not Christ. People have been exhorted to do ten thousand things. Moral duties presented before the people in pleasing and well-polished essays have taken the place of the Cross of Christ and there have been no conversions. By degrees the attendance has become very slender—for where Christ is not preached, it is a strange thing—there are some exceptions to the rule, but still the rule is—there are not many to listen.
Only preach Socinianism and what a splendid hunting-ground this tabernacle will be for the spiders! Give up Christ and preach philosophy—you need not have an organ and a skillful person to play the people out of the church—they would never need that. They will never come in. So is it. Those flimsy doctrines never can prevail because no one will listen to them—they are not attractive. They look as if they would attract all—but none can receive them. The secret being that God will not look down on any man’s ministry unless that man sets forth what God sets forth—Christ Jesus as the propitiation of our sins.
It is not a question as to whether there will be conversions when Christ is set forth. That is certain. Some good brethren quote the text, “Paul may plant and Apollos may water, but”—and they are a long while upon the “but,” and they pervert the text a little, “but God gives the increase.” Now the text does not say any such thing. It says, “Paul plants and Apollos waters, God gives the increase.” They are all linked together—Paul does not plant in vain—Apollos does not water in vain. God gives the increase—sure to do it and if there are not souls saved there is always some reason for it.
And the reason to which I would look—leaving now the inscrutable sovereignty of God out of the question for a moment—the reason would be either that Christ is not preached or else He is preached in such a way as He never ought to be preached—with cold-heartedness, with want of zeal, with want of tenderness.
Only let Christ be preached by an earnest heart—though there be no eloquence or though the elocution is defective—Christ being set forth, God the Holy Spirit will come forth and the Word must and will be blessed. His Word shall not return unto Him void. It shall prosper where He has sent it.
But again, as in the ministry we must set forth Christ if we would have God’s smile, so you, my Brothers and Sisters, in your pleadings for the souls of men must set forth Christ. What a mass of wickedness is hereabouts. What tens of thousands in this immediate neighborhood who know nothing of God. Here is a city with very nearly three millions inhabitants. It is not a city but an empire in itself. What shall we do when we are on our knees? I confess I have sometimes found myself utterly unable to express my desires in prayer to God for this city. When you once get a notion of its sin, its infamy, its dens, its innumerable missionaries teaching Satanic doctrines, its multitudes of men and women whose likelihood it is to ensnare the simple ones, it is an awful burden to carry before God!
You cannot pray for London except in sighs and groans. Good old Roby Flockhart, who stood for many years in the streets of Edinburgh used to be much laughed at. But he preached every night in the week and had during the winter months a little lantern which he put upon a stick and then stood in a corner and preached to the passers-by. He preached with a great power, but much eccentricity. That good man was eminent in his prayers when alone. A gentleman told me that he went one night to see poor Robert, he was extremely poor. The candle had been blown out and he stumbled his way up two or three pair of stairs and came at last to Flockhart’s room.
He opened the door and he could not see the good old man, but he could hear him say, “O Lord, dinna forget Edinboro, dinna forget Edinboro, turn not away Your hand from auld Reekie, dinna forget her, Lord. Your servant will never give You rest till You pour out Your spirit upon Edinboro.” My friend stood still and there was that old man alone with his God—my friend had never heard such groaning and crying. It seemed as if he could even hear the falling of his tears while he prayed for God to bless Edinburgh and to pour out His Spirit upon that city. He made some noise and the old man said, “There is somebody there I suppose.”
He struck a light and found he had taken one of the pillows of his bed to kneel upon by the side of an old chair which was about the only furniture, with the exception of the bed. He would pray for Edinburgh by the hour together and then go out to preach, though many laughed at and hooted him. Oh, one wants to feel like that for London, too, kneeling there till one’s knees are sore, crying, “Do not forget London, do not forget London. Lord do not turn Your face from London. Make bare Your arm in this great city.”
But how are we to make our prayers prevail with God? Brethren, we must show forth Christ in prayer and then God will look upon our prayers. The Methodist cry which was once heard at the prayer meeting when a poor Methodist brother could not go on and someone at the far end of the chapel cried out, “Plead the blood, Brother, plead the blood”—that old Methodist cry has force and power in it. “Plead the blood.” God cannot, cannot, cannot resist the cry of the blood of Christ. Abel’s blood demanded vengeance and it had it. Christ’s blood demands pardons and shall have it, must have it—our God cannot be deaf to the cry of His own Son’s blood. And if you and I and all of us together can plead the precious blood of Christ for London, a revival must come, will come, shall come and the face of the times shall be changed. God’s arm shall be revealed and, “all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.”
Yet once again and here with affectionate earnestness—I come to plead personally with each of you. Soul, are you this morning sick of self and longing to be saved? Do your sins condemn you? Do the lusts accuse you, does your conscience flog you? Have you been to God in prayer? Have you sought for mercy and has no mercy come? Have you read the Bible to find a promise? Has no promise dropped with honey to you? Come, I pray you and obey the Word of God which I utter in your hearing—come and take CHRIST and show Christ’s blood to God and He will, He must smile upon you.
If you cannot take the promise, take the BLOOD. If you cannot come before God with any feelings come with CHRIST in your hands.
“May I trust Christ?” says one. May you?! You are commanded to do it! He that believes not has made God a liar because he believes not. He that believes has set to his seal that God is true. Sinner, God is satisfied with Christ. Does He satisfy God and will He not satisfy you? The eternal Judge has accepted Jesus and do you refuse Him? The Lord has opened the door and stands at it. Is the door good enough for the king and yet not good enough for a rebel like yourself?
“But.” Away with your “buts!” You want to bring something to add to Christ—is He enough to reconcile God and not enough to reconcile you? “But,” “but,” again. So God thinks the precious blood to be a sufficient price and you think it is not?
Oh fool and slow of heart, how dare you think that God has not set forth enough but you must add to it! Instead of this, I pray you in Christ’s stead, believe in Christ as you are. Whoever you may be, whatever your past life has been, whatever your present feelings now are—entrust your soul with Christ and God declares that your sins are put away. Put your soul as it is—I care not how black with sin, it matters not how depraved it is—put it here on that mercy seat which God has set forth and you have put it where God commanded you put it and its salvation rests no more with you. You have put your salvation into Christ’s hands, it is His business to save you and He will do it—
“I know that safe with Him remains
Protected by His power
What I’ve committed to His hands
Till the decisive hour.”
I do not know how it is, but this simple doctrine is the hardest doctrine to make clear. It seems so easy and yet many will mystify and doubt it. “What, no good works, no good feelings!” All these things are fruits of grace—but salvation does not depend upon good works—they are a result so salvation. Salvation is in Christ, wholly in Christ—in Christ alone—and the moment any of you do trust Him genuinely to be your sole and only Savior you have accepted God’s propitiation and God has accepted you. It is not possible for the Lord, unless He could reverse His nature, stain His honor, belie His Character, make His Word a farce and the atonement of Christ a falsehood—to reject any man under Heaven who believes in Christ and takes Him to be His All in All.
This day is called Good Friday—may it be a good Friday to some of you. Perhaps I have some here to whom I have preached these last seven years and yet you have remained unsaved. I am clear of your blood if you had only heard but this one morning sermon, for God witnesses I know not how to put the plan of salvation more clearly than I have done. “God has set forth Christ to be a propitiation through His blood.” I bid you look to Christ bleeding, to Christ sweating drops of blood, Christ scourged, Christ nailed to the Cross and if you believe in Christ’s blood He is the propitiation of your sins.
But I can do no more than this. It is mine to preach, it is mine to pray and mine to plead. Oh may God the Holy Spirit give you grace to receive, to accept, to yield to this blessed proclamation of free mercy. Other salvation there is none. You may rack your soul with pain and wear out your bones with toil, but there is rest nowhere but here, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” “He that with his heart believes and with his mouth makes confession shall be saved.” “For he that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believes not shall be damned.”
What shall I say? Instead of pleading further with you I would plead with God in private that many of you may now try whether Christ cannot save you. Rest yourself on Him, trust yourself with Him and He will be as good as His word and save you now and save you even to the end. The Lord add His blessing, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, February 11, 1855
By the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon
At Exeter Hall, Strand
“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”—1 Corinthians 1:23-24.
What contempt hath God poured upon the wisdom of this world! How hath he brought it to nought, and made it appear as nothing. He has allowed it to word out its own conclusions, and prove its own folly. Men boasted that they were wise; they said that they could find out God to perfection; and in order that their folly might be refuted once and forever, God gave them the opportunity of so doing. He said, “Worldly wisdom, I will try thee. Thou sayest that thou art mighty, that thine intellect is vast and comprehensive, that thine eye is keen, and thou canst find all secrets; now, behold, I try thee; I give thee one great problem to solve. Here is the universe; stars make its canopy, fields and flowers adorn it, and the floods roll o’er its surface; my name is written therein; the invisible things of God may be clearly seen in the things which are made. Philosophy, I give thee this problem—find me out. Here are my works—find me out. Discover in the wondrous world which I have made, the way to worship me acceptably. I give thee space enough to do it—there are data enough. Behold the clouds, the earth, and the stars. I give thee time enough; I will give thee four thousand years, and I will not interfere; but thou shalt do as thou wilt with thine own world. I will give thee men enough; for I will make great minds and vast, whom thou shalt call lords of earth; thou shalt have orators, thou shalt have philosophers. Find me out, O reason; find me out, O wisdom; find me out, if thou canst; find me out unto perfection; and if thou canst not, then shut thy mouth forever, and then will I teach thee that the wisdom of God is wiser than the wisdom of man; yea, that the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” And how did the wisdom of man work out the problem? How did wisdom perform her feat? Look upon the heathen nations; there you see the result of wisdom’s researches. In the time of Jesus Christ, you might have beheld the earth covered with the slime of pollution, a Sodom on a large scale—corrupt, filthy, depraved; indulging in vices which we dare not mention; revelling in lust too abominable even for our imagination to dwell upon for a moment. We find the men prostrating themselves before blocks of wood and stone, adoring ten thousand gods more vicious than themselves. We find, in fact, that reason wrote out her lines with a finger covered with blood and filth, and that she forever cut herself out from all her glory by the vile deeds she did. She would not worship God. She would not bow down to him who is “clearly seen,” but she worshipped any creature—the reptile that crawled, the viper— everything might be a god; but not, forsooth, the God of heaven. Vice might be made into a ceremony, the greatest crime might be exalted into a religion; but true worship she knew nothing of. Poor reason! poor wisdom! how art thou fallen from heaven; like Lucifer—thou son of the morning—thou art lost; thou hast written out thy conclusion, but a conclusion of consummate folly. “After that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
Wisdom had had its time, and time enough; it had done its all, and that was little enough; it had made the world worse than it was before it stepped upon it, and “now,” says God, “Foolishness shall overcome wisdom; now ignorance, as ye call it, shall sweep away science; now, humble, child-like faith shall crumble to the dust all the colossal systems your hands have piled.” He calls his armies. Christ puts his trumpet to his mouth, and up come the warriors, clad in fishermen’s garb, with the brogue of the lake of Galilee—poor humble mariners. Here are the warriors, O wisdom, that are to confound thee; these are the heroes who shall overcome thy proud philosophers; these men are to plant their standard upon thy ruined walls, and bid them to fall forever; these men and their successors are to exalt a gospel in the world which ye may laugh at as absurd, which ye may sneer at as folly, but which shall be exalted above the hills, and shall be glorious even to the highest heavens. Since that day, God has always raised up successors of the apostles; not by any lineal descent, but because I have the same roll and charter as any apostle, and am as much called to preach the gospel as Paul himself; if not as much owned by the conversion of sinners, yet, in a measure, blessed of God; and, therefore, here I stand, foolish as Paul might be, foolish as Peter, or any of those fishermen; but still with the might of God I grasp the sword of truth, coming here to “preach Christ and him crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
Before I enter upon our text, let me very briefly tell you what I believe preaching Christ and him crucified is. My friends, I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to give people a batch of philosophy every Sunday morning and evening, and neglect the truths of this Holy Book. I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to leave out the main cardinal doctrines of the Word of God, and preach a religion which is all a mist and a haze, without any definite truths whatever. I take it that man does not preach Christ and him crucified, who can get through a sermon without mentioning Christ’s name once; nor does that man preach Christ and him crucified, who leaves out the Holy Spirit’s work, who never says a word about the Holy Ghost, so that indeed the hearers might say, “We do not so much as know whether there be a Holy Ghost.” And I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith without works; not unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation, after having believed. Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not such a gospel as that. We preach Christ and him crucified in a different fashion, and to all gainsayers we reply, “We have not so learned Christ.”
There are three things in the text: first, a gospel rejected, “Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumblingblock, and to the Greeks foolishness”; secondly, a gospel triumphant, “unto those who are called, both Jews and Greeks”; and thirdly, a gospel admired; it is to them who are called “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
I. First, we have here A GOSPEL REJECTED. One would have imagined that, when God sent his gospel to men, all men would meekly listen, and humbly receive its truths. We should have thought that God’s ministers had but to proclaim that life is brought to light by the gospel, and that Christ is come to save sinners, and every ear would be attentive, every eye would be fixed, and every heart would be wide open to receive the truth. We should have said, judging favorably of our fellow-creatures, that there would not exist in the world a monster so vile, so depraved, so polluted, as to put so much as a stone in the way of the progress of truth; we could not have conceived such a thing; yet that conception is the truth. When the gospel was preached, instead of being accepted and admired, one universal hiss went up to heaven; men could not bear it; its first preacher they dragged to the brow of the hill, and would have sent him down headlong; yea, they did more—they nailed him to the cross, and there they let him languish out his dying life in agony such as no man hath borne since. All his chosen ministers have been hated and abhorred by worldlings; instead of being listened to they have been scoffed at; treated as if they were the offscouring of all things, and the very scum of mankind. Look at the holy men in the old times, how they were driven from city to city, persecuted, afflicted, tormented, stoned to death, wherever the enemy had power to do so. Those friends of men, those real philanthropists, who came with hearts big with love, and hands full of mercy, and lips pregnant with celestial fire, and souls that burned with holy influence; those men were treated as if they were spies in the camp, as if they were deserters from the common cause of mankind; as if they were enemies, and not, as they truly were, the best of friends. Do not suppose, my friends, that men like the gospel any better now than they did then. There is an idea that you are growing better. I do not believe it. You are growing worse. In many respects men may be better—outwardly better; the heart within is still the same. The human heart of today dissected, would be like the human heart a thousand years ago; the gall of bitterness within that breast of yours, is just as bitter as the gall of bitterness in that of Simon of old. We have in our hearts the same latent opposition to the truth of God; and hence we find men, even as of old, who scorn the gospel.
I shall, in speaking of the gospel rejected, endeavour to point out the two classes of persons who equally despise truth. The Jews make it a stumblingblock, and the Greeks account it foolishness. Now these two very respectable gentlemen—the Jew and the Greek—I am not going to make these ancient individuals the object of my condemnation, but I look upon them as members of a great parliament, representatives of a great constituency, and I shall attempt to show that, if all the race of Jews were cut off, there would be still a great number in the world who would answer to the name of Jews, to whom Christ is a stumblingblock; and that if Greece were swallowed up by some earthquake, and ceased to be a nation, there would still be the Greek unto whom the gospel would be foolishness. I shall simply introduce the Jew and the Greek, and let them speak a moment to you, in order that you may see the gentlemen who represent you; the representative men; the persons who stand for many of you, who as yet are not called by divine grace.
The first is a Jew; to him the gospel is a stumblingblock. A respectable man the Jew was in his day; all formal religion was concentrated in his person; he went up to the temple very devoutly; he tithed all he had, even to the mint and the cummin. You would see him fast twice in the week, with a face all marked with sadness and sorrow. If you looked at him, he had the law between his eyes; there was the phylactery, and the borders of his garments of amazing width, that he might never be supposed to be a Gentile dog; that no one might ever conceive that he was not an Hebrew of pure descent. He had a holy ancestry; he came of a pious family; a right good man was he. He could not like those Sadducees at all, who had no religion. He was thoroughly a religious man; he stood up for his synagogue; he would not have that temple on Mount Gerizim; he could not bear the Samaritans, he had no dealings with them; he was a religionist of the first order, a man of the very finest kind; a specimen of a man who is a moralist, and who loves the ceremonies of the law. Accordingly, when he heard about Christ, he asked who Christ was. “The Son of a Carpenter.” Ah! “The son of a carpenter, and his mothers’s name was Mary, and his father’s name was Joseph.” “That of itself is presumption enough,” said he; “positive proof, in fact, that he cannot be the Messiah.” And what does he say? Why, he says, “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” “That won’t do.” Moreover, he says, “It is not by the works of the flesh that any man can enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The Jew tied a double knot in his phylactery at once; he thought he would have the borders of his garment made twice as broad. He bow to the Nazarene! No, no; and if so much as a disciple crossed the street, he thought the place polluted, and would not tread in his steps. Do you think he would give up his old father’s religion, the religion which came from Mount Sinai, that old religion that lay in the ark and the overshadowing cherubim? He give that up! not he. A vile imposter—that is all Christ was in his eyes. He thought so. “A stumblingblock to me; I cannot hear about it; I will not listen to it.” Accordingly, he turned a deaf ear to all the preacher’s eloquence, and listened not at all. Farewell, old Jew! Thou sleepest with thy fathers, and thy generation is a wandering race, still walking the earth. Farewell! I have done with thee. Alas! poor wretch, that Christ, who was thy stumbling-block, shall be thy judge, and on thy head shall be that loud curse. “His blood be on us and on our children.” But I am going to find out Mr. Jew here in Exeter Hall—persons who answer to his description—to whom Jesus Christ is a stumblingblock. Let me introduce you to yourselves, some of you. You were of a pious family too, were you not? Yes. And you have a religion which you love; you love it so far as the chrysalis of it goes, the outside, the covering, the husk. You would not have one rubric altered, nor one of those dear old arches taken down, nor the stained glass removed, for all the world; and any man who should say a word against such things, you would set down as a heretic at once. Or, perhaps, you do not go to such a place of worship, but you love some plain old meeting-house, where your forefathers worshipped, called a dissenting chapel. Ah! it is a beautiful plain place; you love it, you love its ordinances, you love its exterior; and if any one spoke against the place, how vexed you would feel. You think that what they do there, they ought to do everywhere; in fact, your church is a model one; the place where you go is exactly the sort of place for everybody; and if I were to ask you why you hope to go to heaven, you would perhaps say, “Because I am a Baptist,” or, “Because I am an Episcopalian,” or whatever other sect you belong to. There is yourself; I know Jesus Christ will be to you a stumblingblock. If I come and tell you, that all your going to the house of God is good for nothing; if I tell you that all those many times you have been singing and praying, all pass for nothing in the sight of God, because you are a hypocrite and a formalist. If I tell you that your heart is not right with God, and that unless it is so, all the external is good for nothing, I know what you will say,—”I shan’t hear that young man again.” It is a stumblingblock. If you had stepped in anywhere where you had heard formalism exalted: if you had been told “this must you do, and this other must you do, and then you will be saved,” you would highly approve of it. But how many are there externally religious, with whose characters you could find no fault, but who have never had the regenerating influence of the Holy Ghost; who never were made to lie prostrate on their face before Calvary’s cross; who never turned a wistful eye to yonder Saviour crucified; who never put their trust in him that was slain for the sons of men. They love a superficial religion, but when a man talks deeper than that, they set it down for cant. You may love all that is external about religion, just as you may love a man for his clothes—caring nothing for the man himself. If so, I know you are one of those who reject the gospel. You will hear me preach; and while I speak about the externals, you will hear me with attention; whilst I plead for morality, and argue against drunkenness, or show the heinousness of Sabbath-breaking, but if once I say, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye can in no wise enter into the kingdom of God”; if once I tell you that you must be elected of God: that you must be purchased with the Saviour’s blood—that you must be converted by the Holy Ghost—you say, “He is a fanatic! Away with him, away with him! We do not want to hear that any more.” Christ crucified, is to the Jew—the ceremonialist—a stumblingblock.
But there is another specimen of this Jew to be found. He is thoroughly orthodox in his sentiments. As for forms and ceremonies, he thinks nothing about them. He goes to a place of worship where he learns sound doctrine. He will hear nothing but what is true. He likes that we should have good works and morality. He is a good man, and no one can find fault with him. Here he is, regular in his Sunday pew. In the market he walks before men in all honesty—so you would imagine. Ask him about any doctrine, and he can give you a disquisition upon it. In fact, he could write a treatise upon anything in the Bible, and a great many things besides. He knows almost everything: and here, up in this dark attic of the head, his religion has taken up its abode; he has a best parlor down in his heart, but his religion never goes there—that is shut against it. He has money in there—Mammon, worldliness; or he has something else—self-love, pride. Perhaps he loves to hear experimental preaching; he admires it all; in fact, he loves anything that is sound. But then, he has not any sound in himself; or rather, it is all sound and there is no substance. He likes to hear true doctrine; but it never penetrates his inner man. You never see him weep. Preach to him about Christ crucified, a glorious subject, and you never see a tear roll down his cheek; tell him of the mighty influence of the Holy Ghost—he admires you for it, but he never had the hand of the Holy Spirit on his soul; tell him about communion with God, plunging in Godhead’s deepest sea, and being lost in its immensity—the man loves to hear, but he never experiences, he has never communed with Christ; and accordingly, when you once begin to strike home; when you lay him on the table, take out your dissecting knife, begin to cut him up, and show him his own heart, let him see what it is by nature, and what it must become by grace—the man starts, he cannot stand that; he wants none of that—Christ received in the heart, and accepted. Albeit that he loves it enough in the head, ’tis to him a stumblingblock, and he casts it away. Do you see yourselves here, my friends? See yourselves as God sees you? For so it is, here be many to whom Christ is as much a stumblingblock now as ever he was. O ye formalists! I speak to you; O ye who have the nutshell, but abhor the kernel; O ye who like the trappings and the dress, but care not for that fair virgin who is clothed therewith; O ye who like the paint and the tinsel, but abhor the solid gold, I speak to you; I ask you, does your religion give you solid comfort? Can you stare death in the face with it, and say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth?” Can you close your eyes at night, singing as your vesper song—
“I to the end must endure
As sure as the earnest is given”?
Can you bless God for affliction? Can you plunge in, accounted as ye are, and swim through all the floods of trial? Can you march triumphant through the lion’s den, laugh at affliction, and bid defiance to hell? Can you? No! Your gospel is an effeminate thing—a thing of words and sounds, and not of power. Cast it from you, I beseech you; it is not worth your keeping; and when you come before the throne of God, you will find it will fail you, and fail you so that you shall never find another; for lost, ruined, destroyed, ye shall find that Christ, who is now “a stumbling block,” will be your Judge.
I have found out the Jew, and I have now to discover the Greek. He is a person of quite a different exterior to the Jew. As to the phylactery, to him it is all rubbish; and as to the broad hemmed garment, he despises it. He does not care for the forms of religion; he has an intense aversion, in fact, to broad-brimmed hats, or to everything which looks like outward show. He likes eloquence; he admires a smart saying; he loves a quaint expression; he likes to read the last new book; he is a Greek, and to him the gospel is foolishness. The Greek is a gentleman found everywhere, now-a-days; manufactured sometimes in colleges, constantly made in schools, produced everywhere. He is on the exchange, in the market; he keeps a shop, rides in a carriage; he is noble, a gentleman; he is everywhere, even in court. He is thoroughly wise. Ask him anything, and he knows it. Ask for a quotation from any of the old poets, or any one else, and he can give it you. If you are a Mohammedan, and plead the claims of your religion, he will hear you very patiently. But if you are a Christian, and talk to him of Jesus Christ, “Stop your cant,” he says, “I don’t want to hear anything about that.” This Grecian gentleman believes all philosophy except the true one; he studies all wisdom except the wisdom of God; he likes all learning except spiritual learning; he loves everything except that which God approves; he likes everything which man makes, and nothing which comes from God; it is foolishness to him, confounded foolishness. You have only to discourse about one doctrine in the Bible, and he shuts his ears; he wishes no longer for your company—it is foolishness. I have met this gentleman a great many times. Once, when I saw him, he told me he did not believe in any religion at all; and when I said I did, and had a hope that when I died I should go to heaven, he said he dared say it was very comfortable, but he did not believe in religion, and that he was sure it was best to live as nature dictated. Another time he spoke well of all religions, and believed they were very good in their place, and all true; and he had no doubt that, if a man were sincere in any kind of religion, he would be alright at last. I told him I did not think so, and that I believed there was but one religion revealed of God—the religion of God’s elect, the religion which is the gift of Jesus. He then said I was a begot, and wished me good morning. It was to him foolishness. He had nothing to do with me at all. He either liked no religion, or every religion. Another time I held him by the coat button, and I discussed with him a little about faith. He said, “It is all very well, I believe that is true Protestant doctrine.” But presently I said something about election, and he said, “I don’t like that; many people have preached that and turned it to bad account.” I then hinted something about free grace; but that he could not endure, it was to him foolishness. He was a polished Greek, and thought that if he were not chosen, he ought to be. He never liked that passage, “God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and the things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” He thought it was very discreditable to the Bible and when the book was revised, he had no doubt it would be cut out. To such a man—for he is here this morning, very likely come to hear this reed shaken of the wind—I have to say this: Ah! thou wise man, full of worldly wisdom; thy wisdom will stand thee here, but what wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan? Philosophy may do well for thee to learn upon whilst thou walkest through this world; but the river is deep, and thou wilt want something more than that. If thou hast not the arm of the Most High to hold thee up in the flood and cheer thee with promises, thou wilt sink, man; with all thy philosophy, thou wilt sink; with all thy learning, thou shalt sink, and be washed into that awful ocean of eternal torment, where thou shalt be forever. Ah! Greeks, it may be foolishness to you, but ye shall see the man your judge, and then shall ye rue the day that e’er ye said that God’s gospel was foolishness.
II. Having spoken thus far upon the gospel rejected, I shall now briefly speak upon the GOSPEL TRIUMPHANT. “Unto us who are called, both Jews and Greeks, it is the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” Yonder man rejects the gospel, despises grace, and laughs at it as a delusion. Here is another man who laughed at it, too; but God will fetch him down upon his knees. Christ shall not die for nothing. The Holy Ghost shall not strive in vain. God hath said, “My word shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be abundantly satisfied.” If one sinner is not saved, another shall be. The Jew and the Greek shall never depopulate heaven. The choirs of glory shall not lose a single songster by all the opposition of Jews and Greeks; for God hath said it; some shall be called; some shall be saved; some shall be rescued.
“Perish the virtue, as it ought, abhorred,
And the fool with it, who insults his Lord.
The atonement a Redeemer’s love has wrought
Is not for you—the righteous need it not.
See’st thou yon harlot wooing all she meets,
The worn-out nuisance of the public streets
Herself from morn till night, from night to morn,
Her own abhorrence, and as much your scorn:
The gracious shower, unlimited and free,
Shall fall on her, when heaven denies it thee.
Of all that wisdom dictates, this the drift,
That man is dead in sin, and life a gift.”
If the righteous and good are not saved, if they reject the gospel, there are others who are to be called, others who shall be rescued; for Christ will not lose the merits of his agonies, or the purchase of his blood.
“Unto us who are called.” I received a note this week asking me to explain that word “called”; because in one passage it says, “Many are called but few are chosen,” while in another it appears that all who are called must be chosen. Now, let me observe that there are two calls. As my old friend, John Bunyan, says, the hen has two calls, the common cluck, which she gives daily and hourly, and the special one, which she means for her little chickens. So there is a general call, a call made to every man; every man hears it. Many are called by it; all you are called this morning in that sense, but very few are chosen. The other is a special call, the children’s call. You know how the bell sounds over the workshop, to call the men to work—that is a general call. A father goes to the door and calls out, “John, it is dinner time”—that is the special call. Many are called with the general call, but they are not chosen; the special call is for the children only, and that is what is meant in the text, “Unto us who are called, both Jews and Greeks, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” That call is always a special one. While I stand here and call men, nobody comes; while I preach to sinners universally, no good is done; it is like the sheet lightning you sometimes see on the summer’s evening, beautiful, grand; but whoever heard of anything being struck by it? But the special call is the forked flash from heaven; it strikes somewhere; it is the arrow sent in between the joints of the harness. The call which saves is like that of Jesus, when he said “Mary,” and she said unto him “Rabonni.” Do you know anything about that special call, my beloved? Did Jesus ever call you by name? Canst thou recollect the hour when he whispered thy name in thine ear, when he said, “Come to me”? If so, you will grant the truth of what I am going to say next about it—that it is an effectual call; there is no resisting it. When God calls with his special call, there is no standing out. Ah! I know I laughed at religion; I despised, I abhorred it; but that call! Oh, I would not come. But God said, “Thou shalt come. All that the Father giveth to me shall come.” “Lord, I will not.” “But thou shalt,” said God. And I have gone up to God’s house sometimes almost with a resolution that I would not listen, but listen I must. Oh, how the word came into my soul! Was there a power of resistance? No; I was thrown down; each bone seemed to be broken; I was saved by effectual grace. I appeal to your experience, my friends. When God took you in hand, could you withstand him? You stood against your minister times enough. Sickness did not break you down; disease did not bring you to God’s feet; eloquence did not convince you; but when God puts his hand to the work, ah! then what a change. Like Saul, with his horses going to Damascus, that voice from heaven said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” There was no going further then. That was an effectual call. Like that, again, which Jesus gave to Zaccheus, when he was up in the tree; stepping under the tree, he said, “Zaccheus, come down, today I must abide in thy house.” Zaccheus was taken in the net; he heard his own name; the call sank into his soul; he could not stop up in the tree, for an almighty impulse drew him down. And I could tell you some singular instances of persons going to the house of God and having their characters described, limned out to perfection, so that they have said, “He is painting me, he is painting me.” Just as I might say to that young man here, who stole his master’s gloves yesterday, that Jesus calls him to repentance. It may be that there is such a person here; and when the call comes to a peculiar character, it generally comes with a special power. God gives his ministers a brush, and shows them how to use it in painting life-like portraits, and thus the sinner hears the special call. I cannot give the special call; God alone can give it, and I leave it with him. Some must be called. Jew and Greek may laugh, but still there are some who are called, both Jews and Greeks.
Then, to close up this second point, it is a great mercy that many a Jew has been made to drop his self righteousness; many a legalist has been made to drop his legalism, and come to Christ; and many a Greek has bowed his genius at the throne of God’s gospel. We have a few such. As Cowper says:
“We boast some rich ones whom the gospel sways,
And one who wears a coronet, and prays;
Like gleanings of an olive tree they show,
Here and there one upon the topmost bough.”
III. Now we come to our third point, A GOSPEL ADMIRED; unto us who are called of God, it is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Now, beloved, this must be a matter of pure experience between your souls and God. If you are called of God this morning, you will know it. I know there are times when a Christian has to say,
“Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought;
Do I love the Lord or no?
Am I his, or am I not?”
But if a man never in his life knew himself to be a Christian, he never was a Christian. If he never had a moment of confidence, when he could say, “Now I know in whom I have believed,” I think I do not utter a harsh thing when I say, that that man could not have been born again; for I do not understand how a man can be killed and then made alive again, and not know it; how a man can pass from death unto life, and not know it; how a man can be brought out of darkness into marvellous liberty without knowing it. I am sure I know it when I shout out my old verse,
“Now free from sin, I walk at large,
My Saviour’s blood’s my full discharge;
At his dear feet content I lay,
A sinner saved, and homage pay.”
There are moments when the eyes glisten with joy and we can say, “We are persuaded, confident, certain.” I do not wish to distress any one who is under doubt. Often gloomy doubts will prevail; there are seasons when you fear you have not been called, when you doubt your interest in Christ. Ah! what a mercy it is that it is not your hold of Christ that saves you, but his hold of you! What a sweet fact that it is not how you grasp his hand, but his grasp of yours, that saves you. Yet I think you ought to know, sometime or other, whether you are called of God. If so, you will follow me in the next part of my discourse, which is a matter of pure experience; unto us who are saved, it is “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”The gospel is to the true believer a thing of power. It is Christ the power of God. Ay, there is a power in God’s gospel beyond all description. Once, I, like Mazeppa, bound on the wild horse of my lust, bound hand and foot, incapable of resistance, was galloping on with hell’s wolves behind me, howling for my body and my soul, as their just and lawful prey. There came a mighty hand which stopped that wild horse, cut my bands, set me down, and brought me into liberty. Is there power, sir? Ay, there is power, and he who has felt it must acknowledge it. There was a time when I lived in the strong old castle of my sins, and rested in my works. There came a trumpeter to the door, and bade me open it. I with anger chide him from the porch, and said he ne’er should enter. There came a goodly personage, with loving countenance; his hands were marked with scars, where nails were driven, and his feet had nail-prints too; he lifted up his cross, using it as a hammer; at the first blow the gate of my prejudice shook; at the second it trembled more; at the third down it fell, and in he came; and he said, “Arise, and stand upon thy feet, for I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” A thing of power! Ah! it is a thing of power. I have felt it here, in this heart; I have the witness of the Spirit within, and know it is a thing of might, because it has conquered me; it has bowed me down.
“His free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Hath won my affection, and held my soul fast.”
The gospel to the Christian is a thing of power. What is it that makes the young man devote himself as a missionary to the cause of God, to leave father and mother, and go into distant lands? It is a thing of power that does it—it is the gospel. What is it that constrains yonder minister, in the midst of the cholera, to climb up that creaking staircase, and stand by the bed of some dying creature who has that dire disease? It must be a thing of power which leads him to venture his life; it is love of the cross of Christ which bids him do it. What is that which enables one man to stand up before a multitude of his fellows, all unprepared it may be, but determined that he will speak nothing but Christ and him crucified? What is it that enables him to cry, like the war-horse of Job in battle, Aha! and move glorious in might? It is a thing of power that does it—it is Christ crucified. And what emboldens that timid female to walk down that dark lane in the wet evening, that she may go and sit beside the victim of a contagious fever? What strengthens her to go through that den of thieves, and pass by the profligate and profane? What influences her to enter into that charnel-house of death, and there sit down and whisper words of comfort? Does gold make her do it? They are too poor to give her gold. Does fame make her do it? She shall never be known, nor written among the mighty women of this earth. What makes her do it? Is it love of merit? No; she knows she has no desert before high heaven. What impels her to it? It is the power of the gospel on her heart; it is the cross of Christ; she loves it, and she therefore says—
“Were the whole realm of nature mine.
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
But I behold another scene. A martyr is going to the stake; the halberd men are around him; the crowds are mocking, but he is marching steadily on. See, they bind him, with a chain around his middle, to the stake; they heap faggots all about him; the flame is lighted up; listen to his words: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” The flames are kindling round his legs; the fire is burning him even to the bone; see him lift up his hands and say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and though the fire devour this body, yet in my flesh shall I see the Lord.” Behold him clutch the stake and kiss it, as if he loved it, and hear him say, “For every chain of iron that man girdeth me with, God shall give me a chain of gold; for all these faggots, and this ignominy and shame, he shall increase the weight of my eternal glory.” See all the under parts of his body are consumed; still he lives in the torture; at last he bows himself, and the upper part of his body falls over; and as he falls you hear him say, “Into thy hands I commend my Spirit.” What wondrous magic was on him, sirs? What made that man strong? What helped him to bear that cruelty? What made him stand unmoved in the flames? It was the thing of power; it was the cross of Jesus crucified. For “unto us who are saved it is the power of God.”
But behold another scene far different. There is no crowd there; it is a silent room. There is a poor pallet, a lonely bed: a physician standing by. There is a young girl: her face is blanched by consumption; long hath the worm eaten her cheek, and though sometimes the flush came, it was the death flush of the deceitful consumption. There she lieth, weak, pale, wan, worn, dying, yet behold a smile upon her face, as if she had seen an angel. She speaketh, and there is music in her voice. Joan of Arc of old was not half so mighty as that girl. She is wrestling with dragons on her death-bed; but see her composure, and hear her dying sonnet:
“Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high!
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life is past,
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last!”
And with a smile she shuts her eye on earth, and opens it in heaven. What enables her to die like that? It is the thing of power; it is the cross; it is Jesus crucified.
I have little time to discourse upon the other point, and it be far from me to weary you by a lengthened and prosy sermon, but we must glance at the other statement: Christ is, to the called ones, the wisdom of God as well as the power of God. To a believer, the gospel is the perfection of wisdom, and if it appear not so to the ungodly, it is because of the perversion of judgement consequent on their depravity.
An idea has long possessed the public mind, that a religious man can scarcely be a wise man. It has been the custom to talk of infidels, atheists, and deists, as men of deep thought and comprehensive intellect; and to tremble for the Christian controversialist, as if he must surely fall by the hand of his enemy. But this is purely a mistake; for the gospel is the sum of wisdom; an epitome of knowledge; a treasure-house of truth; and a revelation of mysterious secrets. In it we see how justice and mercy may be married; here we behold inexorable law entirely satisfied, and sovereign love bearing away the sinner in triumph. Our meditation upon it enlarges the mind; and as it opens to our soul in successive flashes of glory, we stand astonished at the profound wisdom manifest in it. Ah, dear friends! if ye seek wisdom, ye shall see it displayed in all its greatness; not in the balancing of the clouds, nor the firmness of earth’s foundations; not in the measured march of the armies of the sky, nor in the perpetual motions of the waves of the sea; not in vegetation with all its fairy forms of beauty; nor in the animal with its marvellous tissue of nerve, and vein, and sinew: nor even in man, that last and loftiest work of the Creator. But turn aside and see this great sight!—an incarnate God upon the cross; a substitute atoning for mortal guilt; a sacrifice satisfying the vengeance of Heaven, and delivering the rebellious sinner. Here is essential wisdom; enthroned, crowned, glorified. Admire, ye men of earth, if ye be not blind; and ye who glory in your learning bend your heads in reverence, and own that all your skill could not have devised a gospel at once so just to God, so safe to man.
Remember, my friends, that while the gospel is in itself wisdom, it also confers wisdom on its students; she teaches young men wisdom and discretion, and gives understanding to the simple. A man who is a believing admirer and a hearty lover of the truth as it is in Jesus, is in a right place to follow with advantage any other branch of science. I confess I have a shelf in my head for everything now. Whatever I read I know where to put it; whatever I learn I know where to stow it away. Once when I read books, I put all my knowledge together in glorious confusion; but ever since I have known Christ, I have put Christ in the centre as my sun, and each science revolves round it like a planet, while minor sciences are satellites to these planets. Christ is to me the wisdom of God. I can learn everything now. The science of Christ crucified is the most excellent of sciences, she is to me the wisdom of God. O, young man, build thy studio on Calvary! there raise thine observatory, and scan by faith the lofty things of nature. Take thee a hermit’s cell in the garden of Gethsemane, and lave thy brow with the waters of Silo. Let the Bible be thy standard classic—thy last appeal in matters of contention. Let its light be thine illumination, and thou shalt become more wise than Plato, more truly learned than the seven sages of antiquity.
And now, my dear friends, solemnly and earnestly, as in the sight of God, I appeal to you. You are gathered here this morning, I know, from different motives; some of you have come from curiosity; others of you are my regular hearers; some have come from one place and some from another. What have you heard me say this morning? I have told you of two classes of persons who reject Christ; the religionist, who has a religion of form and nothing else; and the man of the world, who calls our gospel foolishness. Now, put your hand upon your heart, and ask yourself this morning, “Am I one of these?” If you are, then walk the earth in all your pride; then go as you came in: but know that for all this the Lord shall bring thee unto judgement; know thou that thy joys and delights shall vanish like a dream, “and, like the baseless fabric of a vision,” be swept away forever. Know thou this, moreover, O man, that one day in the halls of Satan, down in hell, I perhaps may see thee amongst those myriad spirits who revolve forever in a perpetual circle with their hands upon their hearts. If thine hand be transparent, and thy flesh transparent, I shall look through thy hand and flesh, and see thy heart within. And how shall I see it? Set in a case of fire—in a case of fire! And there thou shalt revolve forever with the worm gnawing within thy heart, which ne’er shall die—a case of fire around thy never-dying, ever-tortured heart. Good God! let not these men still reject and despise Christ; but let this be the time when they shall be called.
To the rest of you who are called, I need say nothing. The longer you live, the more powerful will you find the gospel to be; the more deeply Christ-taught you are, the more you live under the constant influence of the Holy Spirit, the more you will know the gospel to be a thing of power, and the more also will you understand it to be a thing of wisdom. May every blessing rest upon you; and may God come up with us in the evening!
“Let men or angels dig the mines
Where nature’s golden treasure shines;
Brought near the doctrine of the cross,
All nature’s gold appears but dross.
Should vile blasphemers with disdain
Pronounce the truths of Jesus vain,
We’ll meet the scandal and the shame,
And sing and triumph in his name.”
Sermon – # 501
Delivered on Sunday Morning, March 22nd, 1863
By the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
“I will love them freely.”—Hosea 14:4.
THIS SENTENCE IS A BODY of divinity in miniature. He who understands its meaning is a theologian, and he who can dive into its fullness is a true Master in divinity. “I will love them freely,” is a condensation of the glorious message of salvation which was delivered to us in Christ Jesus our Redeemer. The sense hinges upon the word “freely.” “I will love them freely.” Here is the glorious, the suitable, the divine way by which love streams from heaven to earth. It is, indeed, the only way in which God can love such as we are. It may be that he can love angels because of their goodness; but he could not love us for that reason; the only manner in which love can come from God to fallen creatures is expressed in the word “freely.” Here we have spontaneous love flowing forth to those who neither deserved it, purchased it, nor sought after it.
Since the word “freely” is the very key-note of the text, we must observe its common meaning among men. We use the word “freely” for that which is given without money and without price. It is opposed to all idea of bargaining, to all acceptance of an equivalent, or that which might be construed into an equivalent. A man is said to give freely when he bestows his charity on applicants simply on the ground of their poverty, hoping for nothing again. A man distributes freely when, without asking any compensation, he finds it more blessed to give than to receive. Now God’s love comes to men all free and unbought; without our having merit to deserve, or money to procure it. I know it is written, “Come, buy wine and milk,” but is it not added “Without money and without price?” “I will love them freely;” that is “I will not accept their works in barter for my love; I will not receive their love as a recompense for mine; I will love them, all unworthy and sinful though they be.”
Men give “freely” when there is no inducement. A great many presents of late have been given to the Princess of Wales, and ’tis well and good; but the position of the Princess is such that we do not view it as any great liberality to subscribe to a diamond necklace, since those who give are honored by her acceptance. Now the freeness of God’s love is shown in this, that the objects of it are utterly unworthy, can confer no honor, and have no position to be an inducement to bless them. The Lord loves them freely. Some persons are very generous to their own relations, but here, again, they can hardly be said to be free, because the tie of blood constrains them. Their own children, their own brother, their own sister—if men will not be generous here, they must be mean through and through. But the generosity of our God is commended to us in that he loved his enemies, and while we were yet sinners in due time Christ died for us. The word “freely” is “exceeding broad” when used in reference to God’s love to men. He selects those who have not the shadow of a claim upon him, and sets them among the children of his heart.
We use the word “freely,” when a favor is conferred without its being sought. It can hardly be said that our King in the old histories pardoned the citizens of Calais freely when his Queen had first to prostrate herself before him, and with many tears to induce him to be merciful. He was gracious, but he was not free in his grace. When a person has been long dogged by a beggar in the streets, though he may turn round and give liberally to be rid of the clamorous applicant, he does not give “freely.” Remember, with regard to God, that his grace to man was utterly unsought. He does give grace to those who seek it, but none would ever seek that grace unless unsought grace had first been bestowed. Sovereign grace waiteth not for man, neither tarrieth for the sons of men. The love of God goes forth to men when they have no thought after him; when they are hastening after all manner of sin and wantonness. He loves them freely, and as the effect of that love, they then begin to seek his face. But it is not our seeking, our prayers, our tears, which incline the Lord to love us. God loves us at first most freely, without any entreaties or beseechings, and then we come both to entreat and to beseech his favor.
That which comes without any exertion on our part comes to us “freely.” The rulers digged the well, and as they digged it they sang “Spring up, O well!” In such a case, where a well must be digged with much labor, the water can hardly be described as rising freely. But yonder, in the laughing valley, the spring gushes from the hill-side, and lavishes its crystal torrent among the shining pebbles. Man pierced not the fountain, he bored not the channel, for, long ere he was born, or ever the weary pilgrim bowed himself to its cooling stream, it had leaped on its joyous way right freely, and it will do so, as long as the moon endureth, freely, freely, freely. Such is the grace of God. No labor of man procures it; no effort of man can add to it. God is good from the simple necessity of his nature; God is love, simply because it is his essence to be so, and he pours forth his love in plenteous streams to undeserving, ill-deserving, hell-deserving objects, simply because he “will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom will have compassion,” for it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
If you ask an illustration of the word “freely,” I point to yonder sun. How freely he scattereth his life-giving beams. Precious as gold are his rays, but he scattereth them like the dust; he sows the earth with orient pearl, and bejewels it with emerald and ruby and sapphire, and all most freely. You and I forget to pray for the sun’s light, but it comes at its appointed season; yea, on that blasphemer who curses God, the day ariseth, and the sunlight warms him as much as the most obedient child of the heavenly Father. That sunbeam falls upon the farm of the miser, and upon the field of the churl, and bids the grain of the wicked expand in its genial warmth and produce its harvest. That sun shines into the house of the adulterer, into the face of the murderer, and the cell of the thief. No matter how sinful man may be, yet the light of day descends upon him unasked for and unsought. Such is the grace of God; where it comes it comes not because sought, or deserved, but simply from the goodness of the heart of God, which, like the sun, blesseth as it wills. Mark you the gentle winds of heaven, the breath of God to revive the languishing,the soft breezes. See the sick man at the sea-side, drinking in health from the breezes of the salt sea. Those lungs may heave to utter the lascivious song, but the healing wind is not restrained, and whether it be breast of saint or sinner, yet that wind ceaseth not from any. So in gracious visitations, God waiteth not till man is good before he sends the heavenly wind, with healing beneath its wings; even as he pleaseth so it bloweth, and to the most undeserving it cometh. Observe the rain which drops from heaven. It falls upon the desert as well as upon the fertile field; it drops upon the rock that will refuse its fertilizing moisture as well as upon the soil that opens its gaping mouth to drink it in with gratitude. See, it falls upon the hard-trodden streets of the populous city, where it is not required, and where men will even curse it for coming, and it falls not more freely where the sweet flowers have been panting for it, and the withering leaves have been rustling forth their prayers. Such is the grace of God. It does not visit us because we ask it, much less, because we deserve it; but as God wills it, and the bottles of heaven are unstopped, so God wills it, and grace descends. No matter how vile, and black, and foul, and godless, men may be, he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and that free, rich, overflowing goodness of his can make the very worst and least deserving the objects of his best and choicest love.
Do understand me. Let me not leave this point till I have well defined its meaning. I mean this, dear friends: when God says, “I will love them freely,” he means that no prayers, no tears, no good works, no almsgivings are an inducement to him to love men, nay, that not only nothing, in themselves, but nothing anywhere else was the cause of his love to them; not even the blood of Christ; not even the groans and tears of his beloved Son. These are the fruits of his love, not the cause of it. He does not love because Christ died, but Christ died because the Father loved. Do remember that this fountain of love has its spring in itself, not in you, nor in me, but only in the Father’s own gracious, infinite heart of goodness. “I will love them freely,” spontaneously, without any motive ab extra, but entirely because I choose to do it.
In the text we have two great doctrines. I will announce the first one; establish it; and then endeavor to apply it.
I. The first great doctrine is this, that THERE IS NOTHING IN MAN TO ATTRACT THE LOVE OF GOD TO HIM.
We have to establish this doctrine, and our first argument is found in the origin of that love. The love of God to man existed before there was any man. He loved his chosen people before any one of them had been created; nay, before the world had been made upon which man dwells he had set his heart upon his beloved and ordained them unto eternal life. The love of God therefore existed before there was any good thing in man, and if you tell me that God loved men because of the foresight of some good thing in them, I again reply to that, that the same thing cannot be both cause and effect. Now it is quite certain that any virtue which there may be in any man is the result of God’s grace. Now if it be the result of grace it cannot be the cause of grace. It is utterly impossible that an effect should have existed before a cause; but God’s love existed before man’s goodness, therefore that goodness cannot be a cause. Brethren, the doctrine of the antiquity of divine love is graven as with the point of a diamond upon the very forehead of revelation; when the children were not yet born, neither having done good nor evil, the purpose of election still stood; while we were yet like clay in the mass of creatureship, and God had power to make of the same dump a vessel to honor or a vessel to dishonor, he chose to make his people vessels unto honor; this could not possibly have been because of any good thing in them, for they themselves were not, much less their goodness. Our Savior’s words—”Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight,” reveal not only the sovereignty but the freeness of divine affection.
Do you not know, dear friends, in the second place, that the whole plan of divine goodness is entirely opposed to the old covenant of works. Paul is very strong on this point, where he expressly tells us that if it be of grace it cannot be of works, and if it be of works it cannot be of grace, the two having no possibility of commingling. Our God, speaking by the prophet, says, “Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them.” The covenant of grace is as wide as the poles asunder from the covenant of works. Now the tenour of the covenant of works is this—”This do and thou shalt live;” if, then, we do the thing which the covenant of works requires of us we live, and we live as the result of our own doing. But the very opposite must be the case in the covenant of grace. It can never be as the result of anything we do that we are saved under that covenant, or else the two are the same, or at least similar, whereas, the whole Bible through they are set in contradistinction the one against the other, as arranged upon opposite principles, and acting from different springs. Oh! you who think that anything in you can make God love you, stand at the foot of Sinai and learn the only thing that can lead God to accept man on the ground of law, and that is perfect obedience. Read the ten commandments through and see if you can keep one of them in the fullness of its spirit; and I am sure you will be compelled to cry out—”Thy commandment is exceeding broad. Great God, I have sinned.” And yet if you would stand on the footing of what you are, you must take the whole ten, and you must keep them throughout an entire life, and never fail in the slightest point, or else abhorred of God you must certainly be. The covenant of grace does not speak on that wise at all. It views man as guilty, and having nothing to merit; and it says, “I will, I will, I will;” it says not “If they will,” but “I will and they shall. I will sprinkle pure water upon them and they shall be clean, and from all their iniquities I will cleanse them.” That covenant does not look upon man as innocent, but as guilty. “When I passed by I saw them in their blood, and I said live; yea, when I saw them in their blood I said, live.” The first covenant was a contract: “Do this and I will do that;” but the next has not the shadow of a bargain in it; it is—”I will bless you, and I will continue to bless you; though you abound in transgressions, yet I will continue to bless till I make you perfect and bring you to my glory at the last.” It cannot be, then, that there is anything in man that makes God love him, because the whole plan of the covenant is opposed to that of works.
Thirdly, the substance of Gods love—the substance of the covenant which springs from God’s love—clearly proves that it cannot be man’s goodness which makes God love him. If you should tell me that there was something so good in man that therefore God gave him bread to eat and raiment to put on, I might believe you. If you tell me that man’s excellence constrained the Lord to put the breath into his nostrils, and to give him the comforts of this life, I might yield to you. But I see yonder, God himself made man; I see that God, that man, at last fastened to the tree; I see him on the tree expiring in agonies unknown, I hear his awful sliviek,—”Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani; “I see the dreadful sacrifice of God’s only-begotten Son, who was not spared but freely delivered up for us all, and I feel certain that it would be nothing short of blasphemy if I should admit that man could ever deserve such a gift as the death of Christ. The very angels in heaven with an eternity of obedience, could never have deserved so great a gift as Christ in the flesh dying for them; and oh! shall we who are all over foul and defiled, shall we look to that dear cross, and say, “I deserved that Savior?” Brethren, this were the height of infernal arrogance; let it be far from us; let us rather feel that we could not deserve such love as this, and that if God loves us so as to give his Son for us, it must be from some hidden motive in his own will, it cannot be because of any good thing in us.
Further, if you will remember the objects of God’s love as well as the substance of it, you will soon see that it could not be anything in them which constrains God to love them. Who are the objects of God’s love? Are they Pharisees, the men who fast twice in the week and pay tithes of all they possess? No, no, no. Are they the moralists who touching the law are blameless, and who walk in all the observances of their religion without a slip? No; the publicans and harlots enter the kingdom of heaven before them. Who are they who are the chosen of God? Let the whole tribe now in heaven speak for themselves, and they will say, “We have washed our roses; (they needed it; they were black,) and we have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Appeal to any of the saints on earth, and they will tell you that they never could perceive any good thing in themselves. I have searched my own heart I hope with some degree of earnestness, and so far from finding any reason in myself why God should love me, I can find a thousand reasons why he should destroy me, and drive me for ever from his presence. The best thoughts we have are defiled with sin, our very faith is mixed with unbelief; the noblest devotion which we ever paid to God is far inferior to his deserts, and is marred with infirmity and fault. Remember that many of those who are the true servants of God were once the very worst servants of Satan. Does it not surprise you that men who were the companions of the harlot are now saints of the Most high? The drunkard, the blasphemer, the man who defied man’s laws as well as God’s—such were some of us, but we are washed, but we are cleansed, but we are sanctified. I never did meet, and I never expect to meet with any saved soul that would ever for a moment tolerate the thought of there being any goodness in itself to merit God’s esteem. No; vile and full of sin I am, and if thou hast mercy on me, O God, it is because thou wilt, for I merit none.
Further, constantly are we informed in Scripture that the love of God and the fruit of the love of God are a gift. “The wages of sin is death, but the giftof God is eternal life.” Now, if the Lord stands bargaining with you and with me, and says, “I will give you this if—if—if—” then he does not love freely; but if, on the other hand, it is simply, and purely, and only a gift bestowed as such, not for any recompence afterwards to be given, then the gift is a pure and true gift, and so the text is warranted in saying, “I will love them freely.” Now, the gift of God is eternal life, and dear friends, if you and I ever get it, we must obtain it as a free gift from God, but by no means as wages which we have earned, for our poor earnings will bring us death; only God’s gift can yield us life.
Everywhere throughout the Word the Lord’s love is greatly and wonderfully commended. We are told that as high as the heavens are above the earth so high are his ways above our ways. Now, if the Lord loved men for some loveliness in them, there would be nothing wonderful in it; you and I can do the same. I hope I can love a man who possesses moral excellence. You feel, each of you, that if a man’s conduct towards you is grateful and good, you cannot but love him, or if you do not, it becomes a fault on your part. With reverence let me say it, if there be something good in man it is no wonder that God should love him; it would be unjust if he did not. If naturally in man there be any virtue, if there be any praise, if there be any commendable repentance, or any acceptable faith, man ought to be loved; this is not a thing to amaze the ages, nor to set the angels singing, nor to move the mountains and hills in astonisliment; but for God to love a man who is bad all over; to love him when there is every reason for hating him, when there is not a trace of goodness in him, oh! this is enough to make the rocks break their silence and the hills burst forth into music.
This is the first doctrine. I cannot preach upon it as I would this morning, for my voice is very weak, and the pain of speaking distracts my mind; but it matters not how I preach upon it, for the subject itself is so exceedingly full of comfort to a really awakened soul, that it needs no garnishing of mine: choice dainties need no skill in the carver—their own lusciousness secures them rich acceptance.
But what is the practical use of it? To you who are going about to establish your own righteousness, here is a death-blow to your works, and carnal trustings. God will not love you meritoriously. God will love you freely. Wherefore go ye about, then, spending your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not. You may boast as you will, but you will have to come to God on a par with the worst of the worst; when you do come you will have to be accepted, you that are the best of men, just on the same terms as if you had been the foulest of the foul. Therefore go not about, busy not yourselves with all this fancied righteousness, but come to Jesus as you are, come now, without any works of yours, for you must so come or not at all. God has said, “I will love them freely,” and depend upon it he will never love you in any other way. You may think you are toiling to heaven, when you shall be only tunnelling your way through mountains of self-righteousness down to the depths of hell.
This doctrine offers comfort to those who do not feel fit to come to Christ.Do you not perceive that the text is a death-blow to all sorts of fitness? “I will love them freely.” Now if there be any fitness necessary in you before God will love you then he does not love you freely, at least this would be a mitigation and a drawback to the freeness of it. But it is “I will love you freely.” You say “Lord, but my heart is so hard.” “I will love you freely.” “But I do not feel my need of Christ as I could wish.” “I will not love you because you feel your need; I will love you freely.” “But I do not feel that softening of spirit that I could desire.” Remember, the softening of spirit is not a condition, for there are no conditions; the covenant of grace has no conditionality whatever. These are the unconditional, sure mercies of David; so that you without any fitness may come and venture upon the promise of God which was made to you in Christ Jesus, when he said, “He that beheyeth on him is not condemned.” No fitness is wanted; “I will love them freely.” Sweep all that lumber and rubbish out of the way! Oh! for grace in your hearts to know that the grace of God is free, is free to you, without preparation, without fitness, without money, and without price!
Nor does the practical use of our doctrine end here. There are some of you who say, “I feel this morning that I am so unworthy; I can well believe that God will bless my mother; that Christ will pity my sister; I can understand how yonder souls can be saved, but I cannot understand how I can be; I am so unworthy.” “I will love them freely.” Oh! does not that meet your case? If you were the most unworthy of all created beings, if you had aggravated your sin till you had become the foulest and most vile of all sinners, yet “I will love them freely,” puts the worst on an equality with the best, sets you that are the devil’s cast-aways, on a par with the most hopeful. There is no reason for God’s love in any man, if there is none in you, you are not worse off than the best of men, for there is none in them; the grace and love of God can come as freely to you as they can to those that have long been seeking them, for “I am found of them that sought me not.”
Yet once more here. I think this subject invites backsliders to return;indeed, the text was specially written for such—”I will heal their backsliding; I will love them freely.” Here is a son who ran away from home. He enlisted for a soldier. He behaved so badly in his regiment that he had to be drummed out of it. He has been living in a foreign country in so vicious a way that he has reduced his body by disease. His back is covered with rags; his character is that of the vagrant and felon. When he went away he did it on purpose to vex his father’s heart, and he has brought his mother’s grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. One day the young lad receives a letter full of love. His father writes—”Return to me, my child; I will forgive you all; I will love you freely.” Now if this letter had said—”If you will humble yourself so much, I will love you; if you will come back and make me such-and-such promises, I will love you;” if it had said, “If you will behave yourself for the future, I will love you,”—I can suppose the young man’s proud nature rising; but surely this kindness will melt him. Methinks the generosity of the invitation will at once break his heart, and he will say, “I will offend no longer, I will return at once.” Backslider! without any condition you are invited to return. “I am married unto you,” saith the Lord. If Jesus ever did love you he has never left off loving you. You may have left off attending to the means of grace; you may have been very slack at private prayer, but if you ever were a child of God you are a child of God still, and he cries “How can I give thee up? How can I set thee as Admah? How can I make thee as Zeboim? My repentings are kindled together; I am God, and not man; I will return unto him in mercy. Return, backslider, and seek thine injured Father’s face. I think I hear a murmur somewhere—”Well, this is very, very, very Antinomian doctrine.” Ay, objector, it is such doctrine as you will want one day; it is the only doctrine which can meet the case of really awakened sinners. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly.”
II. Since it is written. “I will love them freely,” we believe that NOTHING IN MAN CAN BE AN EFFECTUAL BAR TO GOD’S LOVE.
This is the same doctrine put in another shape. Nothing in man can be the cause of God’s love, so nothing in man can be an effectual hindrance to God’s love—I mean such an effectual hindrance as to prevent God from loving man. How shall I prove it? If there be anything in any man which can be a bar to God’s grace, then this would have been an effectual hindrance to its coming to any of the human race. All men were in the loins of Adam, and if there were a bar in you to God’s love, that would have been in Adam; consequently, being in Adam, it would have been a block to God’s love to the race altogether. If there be some sin in you, I say, which can effectually prevent God from showing grace to you, then that was in Adam, seeing you were in the loins of Adam, and it would therefore have been an effectual hindrance to God’s grace from the race in any one of its members. Seeing God’s grace found no barriers over which it could not leap, no floodgates which it could not burst, no mountains it could not overtop, I am persuaded there is nothing in you why God should not show his grace to you.
Besides, one would think that if there be a bar in any it would have prevented the salvation of those who are undoubtedly saved. Mention any sin you like, and I will assure you upon divine authority that men have committed such sins and have yet been saved. Talk of a deed that has blackened the man’s character for ever, that deed of foul adultery and murder; yet that did not stop God’s love from flowing to David; and even if you have gone that length, and I suppose there is no person here who has gone farther, even that cannot prevent divine love from lighting upon you. As God does not love because there is excellence, so he does not refuse to love because there is sin. Let me select the case of Manasseh; he shed innocent blood very much; he bowed before idols; what was worse, he made his children to pass through the fire to the son of Hinnom, put his own child to death as a sacrifice to the false god, and yet for all that God’s love laid hold upon him, and Manasseh became a bright star in heaven, though once as vile as the lost in hell. If there be anything in you, then, that makes you think God cannot love you, I reply, Impossible, for surely your sins do not exceed those of the chief of sinners. Paul says he was the chief of sinners, and he meant it; he spoke by inspiration, and there is no doubt he was. Now if the biggest of sinners has passed through the strait gate, there must be room for the next biggest; if the greatest sinner in the world has been saved, then there is a possibility for you and for me, for we cannot be such great sinners as the very chief of sinners. But I will dare to say that even if we were, even if we could exceed Paul, yet even that could be no barrier; for man’s sin, to say the most of it, is but the act of a finite creature, but God’s grace is the act of infinite goodness. God forbid that I should depreciate your offenses, they are loathsome, they are hellish in themselves; still they are only a creature’s deeds, the deeds of a worm that to-day is and to-morrow is crushed; but the grace, the love, and the pity of God, oh! these are infinite, eternal, everlasting, boundless, matchless, quenchless, unconquerable, and therefore the grace of God can overcome and prove itself mightier than your guilt and sin. There is no bar, then, or else there would have been a bar in the case of others.
Would it not mar the sovereignty of God if there should be a man in whom there was something that would effectually prevent God’s love from flowing to him? Then it would not be, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy;” no, it would be “I will have mercy on those I can have mercy on; but there is such-and-such a man, I cannot have mercy on him, for he is gone too far.” No, glory be to God for that sentence—”I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy.” The devil may say, “What, on that man, on that man! He has gone too far.” “Ah!” but says God, “if I will it, he has not gone too far; I will have mercy on him.” I do not know that I ever felt more the boundless sovereignty of the grace of God than when I looked that text in the face and saw it—not “I will have mercy on those that are vialing to have it;” or, “I will have mercy on penitents,” no—”I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” And so, if God wills to save you, there can be no bar to it, or else that would be a marring and a limiting of the sovereignty of God.
Would not this be a great slur cast upon the grace of God? Suppose I could find out a sinner so vile that Jesus Christ could not reach him; why then the devils in hell would take him through their streets as a trophy; they would say, “This man was more than a match for God; his sin was too great for God’s grace.” What says the Apostle? “Where sin abounded”—that is you, poor sinner;—”where sin abounded”—what sins you plunged into last night, and on other black occasions,—”where sin abounded”—what? Condemnation? Hopeless despair? No, “Where sin abounded grace did much more abound.” I think I see the conflict in the great arena of the universe. Man piles a mountain of sin, but God will match it, and he upheaves a loftier mountain of grace; man heaps up a still huger hill of sin, but the Lord overtops it with ten times more grace; and so the contest continues till at last the mighty God plucks up the mountains by the roots and buries man’s sin beneath them as a fly might be buried beneath an Alp. Abundant sin is no barrier to the superabundant grace of God.
And then, dear friends, would it not detract glory from the gospel, if it could be proved that there was some man in whom the gospel could not work its way? Suppose that the gospel which is “worthy of all acceptation” could not meet certain cases. Suppose I picked out twelve men who were so diseased that the gospel remedy could not meet their case; oh! then I think I should stop my mouth from all glorying in the cross. I could no more say with the apostle, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” for then it would not be the power of God unto salvation to every one that beheyeth. No, it would be the power of God to all except that dozen. But oh! as often as I come into this pulpit, it gives me joy to know that I have a gospel to preach which is suitable to every case. A friend told me the other day that many notorious characters stole in at times. Thank God for that. “Ah!” said some, “but they come only to laugh.” Never mind; thank God if they come. “Oh! but they will make mockery of it.” Nay, the Lord knows how to turn mockers into weepers. Let us hope for the worst, and labor for the most hopeless.
The love of God has provided means to meet the extremest case. They are twofold; the power of Christ, and the power of the Spirit. Do you tell me that sin is a barrier? I answer, “All manner of sin and of blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.” “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth from all sin.” The atonement of Christ is capable of removing from men, all sorts, sizes, and dyes of iniquity. “Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as wool; though they be red like crimson they shall be whiter than snow.” “Ah,” cries one, “man’s hard-heartedness stands in the way of God’s love.” Beloved, the Holy Spirit is ready to meet the case of the hard heart. “Limit not the Holy One of Israel.” Is anything too hard for the Lord? You tell me that unbelief is a bar. I answer “No,” for cannot the Holy Spirit make the unbelieving believe, yea, if the Holy Spirit once comes into effectual contact with the most unbelieving and obstinate spirit it must believe at once. Look at the jailer, a few minutes ago he had been putting Paul in the stocks. What, what, what, what is this that comes over him? “What must I do to be saved?” “Believe,” says the Apostle, and he does believe, and becomes as phant as a child. Out on the men who think that man is master over God! If he willed to stop at this moment the most bloody persecutor, the most filthy and licentious man, if he willed to turn the blackest-hearted atheist into one of the most brilhant of saints, there is nothing in his way to stop him; in a moment omnipotent love can do it; the means are provided, both in the blood of Christ for cleansing, and in the power of the Spirit for renewing the inner man. Therefore, I say it is established beyond doubt, that there is nothing in man which can conquer divine love.
“What is the practical use of this,” says one. The practical use of this is to set the gate of mercy wide open. I like always to preach sermons which leave the door of mercy on the jar for the worst of sinners, but this morning I set it wide open. A man has dropped in here who has been thinking for years, “I gave myself up to sin in my youth, and I have gone astray ever since—there is no hope for me.” I tell you, soul, all that you have ever done is no bar to God’s love to you, for he does not love you because of anything good in you, and that which is black in you cannot prevent his loving you if he so wills it. I tell thee what I would have thee do. I have seen those like unto thee come to the foot of the cross, and they have said—
“Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.”
If thou in thy soul canst now trust the love of God in Christ, thou art saved; no matter whosoever thou mayest be, thou art saved this morning, and thou shalt go out of this house a regenerate soul, for thou hast believed in Jesus, therefore the love of God is come to thee, all thy past life is forgotten and forgiven; all thy past ingratitude, and blasphemy, and sin are cast into the depths of the sea; and, as far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed thy transgressions from thee. I have known the time when, if I had heard the sermon of this morning, faint and feeble though it be, I should have danced for joy. I feel an intense inward satisfaction and delight while preaching it, for I believe it is the opening of the prison to them that are bound. Christ died not for the righteous but for sinners. He gave himself for our sins and not for our righteousness; this old Lutheran doctrine—this grand doctrine which shook old Rome to her very foundations, methinks must give poor sinners comfort and peace. I know that many will see nothing in it. Of course, none but the sick see any value in the healing medicine. I know there are some here who will think the sermon is not for them. Oh! may the Spirit of God make some accept of this comfort; but they will not unless the Spirit of God makes them. Too many of us are like foolish patients, who will not take the physician’s medicine, and he has need to hold us, and thrust it down before we will take it. This is how the Lord dealeth with many, not against their will, but yet against their will as it used to be, he giveth them the medicine of his grace, and maketh them whole.
To sum up all in one, what I mean is this: there have straggled in here this morning the poor working man, the struggling mechanic, the gay young fop, the man who leads a fast life, the wretch who leads a coarse life, the woman, perhaps, who has gone far astray; I mean to say to such, you are lost, but the Son of man is come to seek and to save you. I mean to say to you, sons and daughters of moral parents, who are not converted, but perhaps feel yourselves even worse than the immoral, I mean to say to you that you are not past hope yet. God will love you freely, and this is how his love is preached to you—”Whosoever believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved.” Come as you are; God will accept you as you are. Come as you are, without any preparation or fitness; come as you are, and where the cross is lifted high with the bleeding Son of God upon it, fall flat on your face, accepting the love manifested there, willingly receiving this day the grace which God willingly and freely gives.
As sinners, without any qualification, as sinners, as undeserving sinners, my Lord will receive you graciously and love you freely.
Preaching: Man’s Privilege and God’s Power
Sermon – # 347
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, November 25th, 1860
By the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon
At Exeter Hall, Strand.
“For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.”—Mark 6:20.
THE PREACHING OF THE WORD hath exceeding power. John commenced his ministry as an obscure individual, a man who led an almost hermit life. He begins to preach in the wilderness of Judea, but his cry is so powerful, that ere he has spoken many days, multitudes wait upon his words. He continues, clothed in that shaggy garment, and living on the simplest of food, still to utter the same cry of preparation for the kingdom of heaven—Repent! repent! repent! And now, not only the multitude, but the teachers, the respectable part of the community, come to listen to him. The Scribes and Pharisees sit down by Jordan’s banks to listen to the Baptist’s word. So powerful is his preaching that many of all ranks—publicans, sinners, and soldiers,—come unto him and are baptized by him in Jordan confessing their sins. Nay, the Scribes and Pharisees themselves seek baptism at his hands. Boldly, however, he repulses them; tells them to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, and warns them that their descent from Abraham does not entitle them to the blessings of the coming kingdom of the great Messiah. His word rings from one end of Judea to the other. All men wonder what this can mean, and already there begins to be a feeling in the hearts of men that Messiah is at hand. Herod himself hears of John, and now you behold the spectacle of a cruel and unrighteous king sitting humbly to listen to this stern reformer. The Baptist changes not his preaching. The same boldness which had made him rebuke the common people and their teachers, now leads him to defy the wrath of Herod himself. He touches him in his most tender place, strikes his favourite sin, dashes down his idle lust to the ground, counts it his business not to speak of truth in generals but in particulars. Yea, he tells him to his very face, “It is not lawful for thee to take to thyself thy brother’s wife.”
Oh, what a power there is in the Word of God! I do not find that the Pharynx with all their learning had moved Herod. I discover not that the most mighty of the Grecian philosophers, or of the Gnostics who were then in existence, had any power to reach the heart of Herod. But the simple, plain preaching of John, his declaration of the Word with all honesty and simplicity, had power to pin Herod by the ear, to vibrate in his heart and to awaken his conscience, for sure we are it was awakened; if the awakening did not end in his conversion, at any rate it made him troubled in his sins so that he could not go on peaceably in iniquity. Ah, my dear friends, we want nothing in these times for revival in the world but the simple preaching of the gospel. This is the great battering ram that shall dash down the bulwarks of iniquity. This is the great light that shall scatter the darkness. We need not that men should be adopting new schemes and new plans. We are glad of the agencies and assistances which are continually arising; but after all, the true Jerusalem blade, the sword that can cut to the piercing asunder of the joints and marrow, is preaching the Word of God. We must never neglect it, never despise it. The age in which the pulpit it despised, will be an age in which gospel truth will cease to be honored. Once put away God’s ministers, and you have to a great extent taken the candle out of the candlestick; quenched the lamps that God hath appointed in the sanctuary. Our missionary societies need continually to be reminded of this; they get so busy with translations, so diligently employed with the different operations of civilization, with the founding of stores, with the encouragement of commerce among a people, that they seem to neglect—at least in some degree—that which is the great and master weapon of the minister, the foolishness of preaching by which it pleases God to save them that believe. Preaching the gospel will effectually civilize, while introducing the arts of civilization will sometimes fail. Preaching the gospel will lift up the barbarian, while attempts to do it by philosophy will be found ineffectual. We must go among them, and tell them of Christ; we must point them to heaven; we must lead them to the cross; shall they be elevated in their character, and raised in their condition. But by no other means. God forbid that we should begin to depreciate preaching. Let us still honor it; let us look to it as God’s ordained instrumentality, and we shall yet see in the world a repetition of great wonders wrought by the preaching in the name of Jesus Christ.
To-day, I shall want your attention to a subject which concerns us all, but more especially those, who being hearers of the Word, are hearers only, and not doers of the same. I shall first attempt to show the blessedness of hearing the Word of God; secondly, the responsibilities of the hearer; and then, thirdly,those accompaniments which are necessary to go with the hearing of the Word of God, to make it effectual to save the soul.
I. First of all, my dear friends, let us speak a little about THE BLESSEDNESS OF HEARING THE WORD.
The prophet constantly asserts, “Blessed are the ears which hear the things that we hear; and blessed are the eyes which see the things which we see.” Prophets and kings desired it long, but died without the sight. Often do the seers of old use language similar to this, “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound, they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.” Godly men accept it as an omen of happy times when their eyes should see their teachers. The angels sang the blessedness of it when they descended from on high, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Behold, we bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be unto you and to all people.” The angels’ song is in harmony with the seers’ testimony. Both conjoin to prove what I assert, that we are blessed in having the privilege of listening to God’s Word.
Let us enlarge upon this point. If we reflect upon what the preaching of the Word is, we shall soon see that we are highly privileged in enjoying it. The preaching of the Word is the scattering of the seed. The hearers are the ground on which the good seed falls. Those who hear not the Word are as the arid desert, which has never seen a handful of the good corn; or as the unploughed waves of the sea which have never been gladdened with the prospect of a harvest. But when the sower goes forth to sow seed, he scatters it broadcast upon you that hear, and there is to you the hope that in you the good seed shall take root and bring forth fruit a hundred fold. True, some of you may be but wayside hearers, and evil birds may soon devour the seed. At least, it does fall upon you, nor is it the fault of the seed, but of the ground, if that seed does not grow. True, you may be as stony-ground hearers, who for awhile receive the Word and rejoice therein, but having no root in yourselves, the seed may wither away. That again, I say, does not diminish your privilege, though it increases your guilt, inasmuch as it is no fault of the seed nor of the sun, but the fault of the stony ground, if the fruit is not nourished unto perfection. And you, inasmuch as you are the field, the broad acres upon which the gospel husbandman scatters the precious grain, you enjoy the privilege which is denied to heathens and idolaters.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is likened unto a net which is cast into the sea, and which gathers of divers kinds. Now you represent the fish of the sea, and it is happy indeed for you that you are where the net is thrown, for there is at least the hope that you may be entangled in its meshes, and may be drawn out of the sea of sin, and gathered into the vessels of salvation. If you were far, far away, where the net is never cast, there would be no hope of your being caught therein. But here you are gathered round the fisherman’s humble boat, and as he casts his net into the sea, he hopes that some of you may be caught therein,—and assuredly gracious is your privilege! But if you be not caught, it shall not be the fault of the net, but the fault of your own wilfulness, which shall make you fly from it, lest you be graciously taken therein.
Moreover, the preaching of the gospel is very much in this day like the mission of Christ upon earth. When Christ was on earth he went about walking through the midst of sick folk, and they laid them in their beds by the wayside, so that as Jesus passed by, they might touch the hem of his garment and be made whole. You, to-day, when you hear the Word, are like the sick in their beds where Jesus passes by. You are like blind Bartimaeus sitting by the wayside begging, in the very road along which the Son of David journeys. Lo, a multitude have come to listen to him. He is present wherever his truth is preached: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the ends of the world.” You are not like sick men in their chambers, or sick men far away in Tyre and Sidon, but you are like the men who lay at Bethesda’s pool under the five porches, waiting for the moving of the water. Angel of God, move the waters this day! or rather, O Jesus, give thou grace to the impotent man that he may now step in.
Yet further, we may illustrate the privilege of those who hear the Word by the fact that the Word of God is the bread of heaven. I can only compare this great number of people gathered here to-day to the sight which was seen upon the mountain in the days of Jesus. They were hungry, and the disciples would have sent them away. But Jesus bade them sit down in ranks upon the grass, as you are sitting down in rows here, and there were but a few barley loaves and five small fishes (fit type and representation of the minister’s own poverty of words and thoughts!) But Jesus blessed the bread, and blessed the fishes, and brake them; and they were multiplied, and they did all eat and were filled. So you are as these men. God give you grace to eat. There is not given to you a stone instead of bread, nor a scorpion instead of an egg; but Christ Jesus shall be fully and freely preached to you. May you have appetites to long for the Word, faith to partake of the Word, and may it be to you the bread of life sent down from heaven.
Yet often in Scripture we find the Word of God compared to a light. “The people that sat in darkness saw a great light.” “Unto them that dwell in darkness, and in the valley of the shadow of death, has a great light arisen.” Those who hear not the Word are men that grope their way not only in a fog, but in a thick Egyptian darkness that may be felt. Before your eyes to-day is held up the flaming torch of God’s Word, to shew you your path through the thick darkness. Nay, to-day there is not only a torch, but in the preaching of the Word the Sun of Righteousness himself arises with healing beneath his wings. You are not they that grope for the wall like blind men; you are not as they who are obliged to say, “We see not the path to heaven; we know not the way to God; we fear we shall never be reconciled to Christ.” Behold, the light of heaven shineth upon your eyeballs, and, if ye perish, ye must perish wilfully; if ye sink into hell, it will be with the path to heaven shining before you, if damned, it will be not because you do not know the way of salvation, but because you wilfully and wickedly put it from you, and choose for yourselves the path of death. It must even be then a privilege to listen to the Word, if the Word be as a light, and as bread, and as healing, as a gospel net, and as divine seed.
Once more let me remind you, there is yet a greater privilege connected with the Word of God than this—for all this were nothing without the last. As I look upon a multitude of unconverted men and women, I am reminded of Ezekiel’s vision. He saw lying in the valley of Hinnom multitudes of bones, the flesh of which had been consumed by fire, and the bones themselves were dried as in a furnace, scattered hither and thither. There with other bones in other charnel-houses, lying scattered at the mouths of other graves; but Ezekiel was not sent to them; to the valley of Hinnom was he sent, and there alone. And he stood by faith, and began to practice the foolishness of preaching, “Ye dry bones hear the word of the Lord; thus saith the Lord, ye dry bones live.” And as be spoke there was a rustling, each bone sought its fellow; and as he spake again, these bones united and stood erect, as he continued his discourse the flesh clothed the skeleton; when he concluded by crying, “Come from the winds, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live,” they stood upon their feet an exceeding great army. The preached Word is like Ezekiel’s prophecy; life goes forth with the word of the faithful minister, when we say, “Repent!” We know that sinners cannot repent of themselves, but God’s grace sweetly constrains them to repent. When we bid them believe, it is not because of any natural capacity for faith that lies within them, but because the command “Believe and live,” when given by the faithful minister of God, hath in it a quickening power; as much as when Peter and John said to the man with the withered hand, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stretch out thy hand,” and it was done. So do we say to the dead in sin—”Sinner, live; repent and be converted; repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Owned of God the Spirit, it becomes a quickening cry, and you are made to live. Blessed are the dry bones that lay in a valley where Ezekiel prophecies; and blessed are ye that are found where Jesus Christ’s name is preached, where his power is invoked by a heart which believes in its energy; where his truth is preached to you by one, who despite of many mistakes knows this one thing—that Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God unto every one that believeth. This consideration alone then—the peculiar power of the Word of God, might compel us to say, “That indeed there is a blessedness in hearing it.”
But, my dear friends, let us look at it in another light. Let us appeal to those who have heard the Word and have received good in their own souls by it. Men and brethren, I speak to hundreds of you, who know in your own soul what the Word of God is. Let me ask you—you who have been converted from a thousand crimes—you who have been picked from the dunghill and made to sit among the princely children of God—let me ask you what you think of the preaching of the Word. Why, there are hundreds of you men and women, who if this were the proper time and occasion, would rise from your seat and say, “I bless God that ever I listened to the preached Word. I was a stranger to all truth, but I was enticed to come and listen, and God met with me.” Some of you can look back to the first Sunday on which you ever entered a place of worship for twenty years, and that place was this very hall. Here you came an unaccustomed worshipper to tread God’s hallowed floor. You stood and knew not what you were at. You wondered what the service of God’s house could be. But you have reason to remember that Sabbath-day, and you will have reason to remember it to all eternity. Oh that day! it broke your bonds and set you free; that day aroused your conscience and made you feel your need of Christ. That day was a blessed turning point in your history, in which you were led to escape from hell, turn your back on sin, and fly for refuge to Christ Jesus. Since that day let me ask you, what has the Word of God been to you? Has it not been constantly a quickening word? You have grown dull and careless during the week; has not the Sabbath sermon stirred you up afresh? You have sometimes all but lost your hope, and has not the hearing of the Word revived you? Why I know that some of you have come up to the house of God as hungry men would come to a place where bread was distributed, you come to the house of God with a light and happy step, as thirsty men would come to a flowing well, and you rejoice when the day comes round: you only wish there were seven Sabbath days a week, that you might always be listening to God’s Word. You can say with Dr. Watts,
“Father, my soul would still abide within thy temple, near thy side.
And if my feet must hence depart, still keep thy dwelling in my heart.”
Personally I have to bless God for many good books. I thank God for Dr. Doddridge’s Rise and Progress of Religion; I thank God for Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted; for Alleyne’s Alarm to Sinners; I bless God for James’s Anxious Enquirer; but my gratitude most of all is due to God, not for books, but for the living Word—and that too addressed to me by a poor uneducated man, a man who had never received any training for the ministry, and probably will never be heard of in this life, a man engaged in business, no doubt of a menial kind during the week, but who had just enough of grace to say on the Sabbath, “Look unto me and be ye saved all ye ends of the earth. “The books were good, but the man was better. The revealed Word awakened me, it was the living Word saved me, and I must ever attach peculiar value to the hearing of the truth, for by it I received the joy and peace in which my soul delights.
But further, my dear hearers, the value of the Word preached and heard may be estimated by the opinions which the lost have of it now. Hearken to one man, it is not a dream nor a picture of my imagination which I now present to you, it is one of Jesus Christ’s own graphic descriptions. There lies a man in hell who has heard Moses and the prophets. His time is passed, he can hear them no more. But so great is the value he attaches to the preached Word, that he says, “Father Abraham, send Lazarus, for I have five brethren, let him testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” He felt that if Lazarus could speak—speak personally his own personal testimony to the truth, that peradventure they might be saved. Oh! what would the damned in hell give for a sermon could they but listen once more to the church-going bell and go up to the sanctuary! Ah, my brethren, they would consent, if it were possible, to bear ten thousand years of hell’s torments, if they might but once more have the Word preached to them! Ah! if I had a congregation such as that would be, of men who have tasted the wrath of God, of men who know what an awful thing it is to fall into the hands of an angry God, oh, how would they lean forward to catch every word, with what deep attention would they all regard the preacher, each one saying, “Is there a hope for me? May I not escape from the place of doom? Good God! may this fire not be quenched and I be plucked as a brand from the burning?” Value then, I pray you, the privilege while you have it now. We are always foolish, and we never value mercy till we lose it. But I do adjure you cast not aside this folly, value it while it is called to-day, value that which once lost will seem to us to be priceless beyond all conception,—estimated then at its true worth, invaluable, and precious beyond a miser’s dream.
Let me again ask you to value it in a brighter light—by the estimation of the saints before the throne. Ye glorified ones, what think ye of the preaching of the Word? Hark to them! Will they not sing it forth—”Faith came to us by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. It was by it that we were led to confess our sins; by it we were led to wash our robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb?” I am sure they before the throne think not lightly of God’s ministers. They would not speak with cold language of the truth of the Gospel which is preached in your ears. No, in their eternal hallelujahs they bless the Lord who sent the Gospel to them, as they sing—”Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his blood, unto him be glory for ever and ever.” Value, then, the preaching of the Word, and count yourselves happy that you are allowed to listen to it.
II. My second head deals more closely with the text, and I hope it will likewise appeal more closely to our consciences—THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE HEARER OF THE WORD.
Herod, you will perceive, went as far as very many of us, perhaps farther than some, and yet was lost. Our responsibilities concerning the Word do not end with hearing it. Herod heard it, but hearing is not enough. Ye may sit for fifty years in the sanctuary of God hearing the gospel, and be rather the worse than the better for all you have heard, if it end in hearing. It is not the Word entering into one ear, and coming forth out of the other ear which converts the soul but it is the echoing of the Word down in the very heart, and the abiding of the truth in the conscience. I know there are very many who think they have fulfilled all their religion when they go to their church or chapel. Let us not deceive you in this thing. Your church-going, and your chapel-going, though they give you great privileges, yet involve the most solemn responsibilities. Instead of being in themselves saving, they may be damning to you unless you avail yourselves of the privileges presented to you by them. I doubt not that hell is crammed with church and chapel-goers, and that there are whole wards in that infernal prison house that are filled with men who heard the Word, but who stopped there, who sat in their pews, but never fled to Christ; who listened to the call, but did not obey it. “Yes,” saith one,” but I do more than simply hear the Word, for I make choice of the most earnest preacher I can find.” So did Herod, and yet he perished. He was not a hearer of a man with a soft tongue, for John did not speak as one clothed in fine raiment, John was not a reed shaken with the wind; he was a prophet, “Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet;” faithful in all his house, as a good servant of his God. There was never a more honest and faithful preacher than John. And you too, may with care have selected the most excellent minister, not for his eloquence, but for his earnestness; not for his talent, but for his power of faith, and you may listen to him, and that too with attention, and after all may be a cast-away. The responsibilities involved in listening to such a man may be so weighty, that like a millstone about your neck, they may help to sink you lower than the lowest hell. Take heed to yourselves, that you rest not in the outward Word, however fitly spoken, or however attentively heard; but reach forward to something deeper and better. “Yes,” saith a third, “but I do not only hear the most earnest preacher, but I go out of my way to hear him. I have left my parish church, for instance, and I come walking five or six miles—I am willing to walk ten, or even twenty, if I can but hear a sermon—and I am not ashamed to mingle with the poor. I may have rank and position in life, but I am not ashamed to listen to the earnest preacher, though he should belong to the most despised of sects” Yea, and Herod did the like, Herod was a king, and yet listened to the peasant-prophet. Herod is clothed in purple, and yet listens to the Baptist in his shaggy garment. While Herod fared sumptuously every day, he who ate locusts and wild honey reproves him boldly to his face; and with all this, Herod was not saved. So, also, you may walk many a mile to listen to the truth, and that year after year, but unless ye go further than that, unless ye obey the Word, unless it sinks deep into your inmost soul, ye shall perish still—perish under the sound of the Word—the very Word of God becoming a death-knell to your soul, dreadfully tolling you down to deep destruction. But I hear another object. “I, sir, not only take the trouble to hear, but I hear very gladly. I am delighted when I listen. I am not a captious, critical hearer, but I feel a pleasure in listening to God’s Word. Is not that a blessed sign? Do you not think that I must be saved, if I rejoice to hear that good sound?” No, my friend, no; it is a hopeful sign, but it is a very uncertain one, for is it not written in our text, that Herod heard the Word gladly? The smile might be on his face, or the tear in his eye while the Baptist denounced sin; there was a something in his conscience which made him feel glad that there was one honest man alive; that in a time of enormous corruption, there was one fearless soul that dare with unblanched cheek, to correct sin in high places. He was like Henry the Eighth, who when Hugh Latimer presented him on New Year’s day with a napkin, on which was embroidered the words, “Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge;” instead of casting the preacher into prison, he said, “He was glad there was one man who dared to tell him and he stands up for you and defends you, but he is as bad a man as there is living.” Oh sirs! I am glad you listen to me; I do hope that the hammer may yet break your hearts but I do conjure you, give up your sins. Oh! for your own soul’s sake, do not abide in your transgressions, for I warn you, if I have spoken faithfully to you, you cannot sin so cheaply as other men. I have never prosed away to you; I have never been too polite to warn you of perdition, I speak to you in rough and earnest terms—I may claim that credit without egotism. If you perish, sirs, it will little boot you that ye stood up in my defense; it will little serve you that ye tried to screen the minister from slander and from calumny. I would have you think of yourselves, even though ye thought less of me and my reputation. I would have you love yourselves, and so escape from hell, and fly to heaven while yet the gate of mercy stands on the jar, and the hour of mercy is not passed for ever. Think not, I say, that hearing the Word gladly is enough; you may do so and yet be lost.
But more than that. “Ah,” says one, “you have just anticipated what I was about to say. I not only listen gladly, but I respect the preacher. I would not hear a man say a word against him.” It was so with Herod. “He observed John,” it is said, “and he accounted him a just man and a holy,” and yet though he honored the preacher, he was lost himself. Ah! what multitudes go to our fashionable places of worship, and as they come out they say to one another, “What a noble sermon!” and then they go to their houses, and sit down and say, “What a fine turn he gave to that period! what a rich thought that was! what a sparkling metaphor!” And is it for this that we preach to you? Is your applause the breath of our nostrils? Do you think that God’s ministers are sent into the world to tickle your ears and be unto you as one that plays a merry tune on a goodly instrument? God knows I would sooner break stones on the road than be a preacher for oratory’s sake. I would never stand here to play the hypocrite. No, it is your hearts we want, not your admiration. It is your espousal to Christ, and not your love to us. Oh that we could break your hearts, and awake your consciences, we would not mind what other results should follow. We should feel that we were accepted of God, if we were but felt with power to be God’s servants in the hearts and thoughts of men. No, think not that to honor the preacher is enough. Ye may perish praising the minister in your dying moments.
Yet further. Some one may say, “I feel I am a better man through hearing the minister, and is not that a good sign?” Yes, it is a good sign, but it is not a sure one for all that. For Herod they said did many things. Look at the text. It is expressly said there, “He observed him, and when he heard him, he did many things.” I should not wonder after that, that Herod became somewhat more merciful in his government, somewhat less exacting, a little more outwardly moral, and though he continued in his lasciviousness, yet he tried to cover it up with respectable excuses. “He did many things.” That was doing a very long way, but Herod was Herod still. And you sirs, it may be, have been led to give up drunkenness, through the preaching of the Word: to shut up the shop that used to be opened on a Sunday. You cannot now swear; you would not now cheat. It is good, it is very good; but it is not enough. All this there may be, but yet the root of the matter may not be in you. To honor the Sabbath outwardly will not save you, unless you enter into the rest which remaineth for the people of God. Merely to close the shop is not enough. The heart itself must be shut up against the love of sin. To cease blasphemy is not sufficient, though it is good, for there may be blasphemy in the heart, when there is none upon the tongue. “Except ye be converted and become as little children ye shall in nowise enter the kingdom of heaven.” For “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The Lord grant that you may not rest with outward cleansing, with moral purification, but strike deeper into the root, and soul, and marrow of these blessings, the change of your heart, the bringing of your soul into union with Christ. One thing I must also remark about Herod, with the Greek text in view “He did many things,” will allow me to infer that he felt many doubts. As a good old commentator says, “John smote him so hard, that he could not help feeling it. He gave him such home blows that he could not but be bruised every now and then, and yet though his conscience was smitten, his heart was never renewed.” It is a pleasant sight to see men weep under the Word—to mark them tremble; but then we remember Felix. Felix trembled. But he said, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season I will send for thee. Happy the minister who hears the people say, “Almost thou persuadest us to be Christians.” But then, we remember Agrippa—we remember how he returns to his sins, and seeks not the Savior. We are glad if your consciences are awakened, we rejoice if you are made to doubt and question yourselves, but we mourn because your doubts are so transient, because your goodness is as the morning cloud, and as the early dew.
I have tracked some of you to your houses. I have known of some who after a solemn sermon, when they got home could scarcely eat their meal. They sit down, leaning their head on their hand. The wife is glad to think that her husband is in a hopeful state. He rises from his seat; he goes up stairs; he walks about the house he says he is miserable. At last he comes down and sets his teeth together, and says “Well, if I am to be damned I shall be damned; if I am to be saved I shall be saved, and there’s an end of it.” Then he rouses himself, saying, “I cannot go to hear that man again: he is too hard with me. I must either give up my sins, or give up listening to the Word; the two things will not exist together.” Happy, I say, are we to see that man troubled; but our unhappiness is so much the greater when we see him shaking it off—the dog returning to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. O God, save us from this, let us never be men who spring up fairly, but wither away suddenly and disappoint all hope. O God, let us not be as Balaam, who prayed that his last end might be with the righteous, but returned to defy Israel, to provoke the Lord God, and to perish in the midst of his iniquity.
And now I hear many of you say, “Well if all these things are not enough, what is it that is expected of the hearer of the Word?” Spirit of God! help us so to speak that the Word may come home to all! Believer in Christ, if you would hear the Word to profit, you must hear it obediently. You must hear it as James and John did, when the Master said “Follow me,” and they left their nets and their boats and then followed him. You must do the Word as well as hear it, yielding up your hearts to its sway, being willing to walk in the road which it maps, to follow the path which it lays before you. Hearing it obediently, you must also hear it personally for yourselves, not for others, but for yourselves alone. You must be as Zacchaeus, who was in the sycamore tree, and the Master said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, to-day I must abide in thy house.” The Word will never bless you till it comes home directly to yourself. You must be as Mary, who when the Master spoke to her she did not know his voice, till he said unto her, “Mary!” and she said, “Rabboni.” There must be an individual hearing of the truth, and a reception of it for yourself in your own heart. Then, too, you must hear the truth penitently. You must be as that Mary, who when she listened to the Word, must needs go and wash the feet of Jesus with her tears, and wipe them with the hairs of her head. There must be tears for your many sins, a true confession of your guilt before God. But above all you must hear it believingly. The Word must not be unto you as mere sound, but as matter of fact. You must be as Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened; or as the trembling jailer, who believed on the Lord Jesus with all his house and was baptized forthwith. You must be as the thief, who could pray, “Lord, remember me,” and who could believe the precious promise given, “To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” God give us grace so to listen, and then shall our responsibilities under the Word be cleared up receiving the power of the Word into our conscience, with demonstration of the Holy Spirit, and fruits agreeable to our profession.
III. Now to conclude. I want your serious attention to THE NEEDFUL ACCOMPANIMENTS OF HEARING THE WORD.
There are many men who get blessed by the Word through God’s sovereign grace without any of the accompaniments of which I am now about to speak. We have, connected with us, as a Church, a brother in Christ, who came into this place of worship with his gin bottle in his pocket one night. A chance hit of mine—as some would have thought it, when I pointed to the man and told him of it, not knowing aught but that the feeling that I was moved thereunto—was the man’s first awakening. That man came without any preparation, and God blessed the word. Numerous have been the instances, which those who have not proved them deem utterly incredible, in which persons have absolutely come to me after a sermon, and begged me not to tell anybody about them, being firmly persuaded from what I said that I knew their private history, whereas I knew no more about them than a stranger in the market. But the Word of God will find men out. Preach the gospel and it will always find the man out and tell him all his secrets, carrying the lamp of the Lord into the hidden recesses of the heart.
But to you as a mass I speak this. If you will be blessed under the Word, would that you would pray before you come here. You sometimes hear of preparation for the Lord’s Supper—I am sure if the Word is to be blessed, there ought to be a preparation for hearing it. Do you, when you come up to this house, pray to God before you come, “Lord, give the minister words; help him to speak to me to-day; Lord, save me to-day; may the Word to-day be a quickening word to my poor soul?” Ah! my friends, ye would never go without the blessing, if ye come up prayerfully looking for it, having asked it of God. Then after prayer, if you would be blessed under the Word, there should be an expectation of being blessed. It is wonderful the differences between the same sermon preached in different places, and I do not doubt that the same words uttered by different men would have different effects. With some men the hearers expect they will say something worth hearing; they listen, and the man does say something worth hearing; another man might say just the same; nobody receives it as other than common-place. Now if you can come up to the house of God expecting that there will be something for you, you will have it. We always get what we angle for. If we come up to find fault, there always will be faults to find. If we come up to get good, good will be gotten. God will send no man empty away; he shall have what he came for. If he came merely for curiosity, he shall have his curiosity gratified; if he came for good, he shall not be disappointed. We may be disappointed at man’s door; we never were at God’s. Man may send us away empty, but God never will. Then while listening to the Word with expectation, it will naturally come to pass that you will listen with deep attention. A young boy who had been awakened to a sense of sin, was remarked to be exceedingly attentive to sermons, and when asked why it was, he said, “Because I do not know which part of the sermon may be blessed to me, but I know that whichever it is, the devil will do his utmost to take my attention off then for fear I should be blessed;” so he would listen to the whole of it, lest by any means the Word of life should be let slip. So do you, and you will certainly be in the way of being blessed by the Word. Next to that, all through the sermon be appropriating it, saying to yourselves, “Does that belong to me?” If it be a promise, say, “Is that mine?” If it be a threatening, do not cover yourselves with the shield of hard-heartedness, but say, “If that threatening belongs to me, let it have its full force on me.” Sit under the sermon with your breasts open to the Word; be ready to let the arrow come in.
Above all, this will be of no avail unless you hear with faith, Now faith cometh by hearing There must be faith mingled with the hearing. But you say, “What is faith? Is faith to believe that Christ died for me?” “No, it is not. The Arminian says that faith is to believe that Christ died for you. He teaches in the first place that Christ died for everybody, therefore, he says, he died for you; of course he died for everybody, and if he died for everybody he must have died for you. That is not faith at all. I hold, on the other hand, that Christ died for believers, that he died for no man that will be lost, that all he died for will be saved, that his intention cannot be frustrated in any man; that if he died to save any man, that man will be saved. Your question to-day is not whether Christ died for you or not, but it is this;—the Scripture says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” And what is it to believe? To believe is to trust it is the same word, though believe is not so plain a word as trust. To trust Christ is to believe. I feel I cannot save myself, that all my doings and feelings cannot save me; I trust Christ to save me. That is faith; and the moment I trust Christ, I then know that Christ died for me, for they who trust him, he has surely died to save, so surely he died to save them that he will save them, so finished his work that he will never lose them, according to his own Word—”give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand” “But may I trust it!” says one. May! You are commanded to do it. “But I dare not.” What! dare not do what God bids you! Rather say—”I dare not live without Christ, I dare not disobey. God has said—”This is the commandment, that ye believe on the Lord Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.” This is the great commandment which is sent to you. To-day trust Christ and you are saved; disobey that command, and do what you will you are damned.
Go home to your chamber, and say unto God, “I desire to believe what I have heard; l desire to trust my immortal soul in Jesus’ hands. Give me genuine faith; give me a real trust. Save me now, and save me hereafter.” I dare avow it—I never can believe that any man so hearing the Word can by any possibility perish. Hear it, receive it, pray over it, and trust Christ through it, and if you are lost, there can be none saved. If this foundation give way, another can never be laid. If you fall, we all fall together. If trusting in Christ you can perish, all God’s prophets, and martyrs, and confessors, and ministers, perish too. You cannot. He will never fail you; trust him now.
Spirit of God! incline the hearts of men to trust Christ. Enable them now to overcome their pride and their timidity, and may they trust the Savior now, and they are saved for ever, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sermon # 2185
Delivered on Friday Morning, April 25th, 1890
By C.H. Spurgeon
TO: An Assembly of Ministers of the Gospel.
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man”—Galatians 1:11
To me it is a pitiful sight to see Paul defending himself as an apostle; and doing this, not against the gainsaying world, but against cold-hearted members of the church. They said that he was not truly an apostle, for he had not seen the Lord; and they uttered a great many other things derogatory to him. To maintain his claim to the apostleship, he was driven to commence his epistles with “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ,” though his work was a self-evident proof of his call. If, after God has blessed us to the conversion of many, some of these should raise a question as to our call to the ministry, we may count it a fiery trial; but we shall not conclude that a strange thing has happened to us. There is much more room to question our call to the ministry than to cast a doubt upon Paul’s apostleship. This indignity, if it be put upon us, we can cheerfully bear for our Master’s sake. We need not wonder, dear brethren, if our ministry should be the subject of attack, because this has been the lot of those who have gone before us; and we should lack one great seal of our acceptance with God if we did not receive the unconscious homage of enmity which is always paid to the faithful by the ungodly world. When the devil is not troubled by us, he does not trouble us. If his kingdom is not shaken, he will not care about us or our work, but will let us enjoy inglorious ease. Be comforted by the experience of the apostle of the Gentiles: he is peculiarly our apostle, and we may regard his experience as a type of what we may expect while we labor among the Gentiles of our own day.
The treatment which has been given to eminent men while they have lived has been prophetic of the treatment of their reputations after death. This evil world is unchangeable in antagonism to true principles, whether their advocates be dead or living. They said more than eighteen hundred years ago: “Paul, what of him?” They say so still. It is not unusual to hear dubious persons profess to differ from the apostle, and they even dare to say, “There, I do not agree with Paul.” I remember the first time that I heard this expression I looked at the individual with astonishment. I was amazed that such a pigmy as he should say this of the great apostle. Altogether apart from Paul’s inspiration, it seemed like a cheese-mite differing from a cherub, or a handful of chaff discussing the verdict of the fire. The individual was so utterly beneath observation that I could not but marvel that his conceit should have been so outspokenly shameless. Notwithstanding this objection, even when supported by learned critics, we still agree with the inspired servant of God. It is our firm conviction that, to differ from Paul’s epistles is to differ from the Holy Ghost, and to differ from the Lord Jesus Christ, whose mind Paul has fully expressed. It is remarkable that Paul’s writings should be so assailed: but this warns us that when we have gone to our reward, our names will not be free from aspersion, nor our teaching from opposition. The noblest of the departed are still slandered. Be not careful as to human judgment of yourself in death or in life; for what does it matter? Your real character no man can injure but yourself; and if you are enabled to keep your garments clean, all else is not worth a thought.
To come more closely to our text. We do not claim to be able to use Paul’s words exactly in the full sense which he could throw into them; but there is a sense in which, I trust, we can each one say, “I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.” We may not only say this, but we ought to be able to say it with thorough truthfulness. The form of expression goes as far as Paul was wont to go towards an oath when he says, “I certify you, brethren.” He means, I assure you, most certainly—I would have you to be certain of it—”that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.” On this point he would have all the brethren certified past all doubt.
From the context we are sure that he meant, first of all, that his gospel was not received by him from men. His reception of it in his own mind was not after men. And next, he meant, that the gospel itself was not invented by men. If I can hammer out these two statements, we will then draw practical conclusions therefrom.
1. First, TO US THE GOSPEL IS NOT AFTER MEN AS TO THE MODE BY WHICH WE HAVE RECEIVED IT. In a certain sense we received it from men as to the outward part of the reception, for we were called by the grace of God through parental influence, or through a Sabbath-school teacher, or by the ministry of the Word, or by the reading of a godly book, or by other agency. But in Paul’s case none of these things were used. He was distinctly called by the Lord Jesus Christ himself speaking to him from heaven, and revealing himself in his own light. It was necessary that Paul should not be indebted to Peter, or James, or John, even in the way in which many of us are indebted to instrumentality; so that he might truly say, “I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Yet we also can say this in another sense. We also have received the gospel in a way beyond the power of man to convey it to us: men brought it to our ear, but the Lord himself applied it to our heart. The best of the saints could not have brought it home to our hearts, so as to regenerate, convert, and sanctify us by it. There was a distinct act of God the Holy Ghost by which the instrumentality was made effectual, and the truth was rendered operative upon our souls.
So I note that not one among us has received the gospel by birth-right. We may be the children of holy parents, but we are not therefore the children of God. To us it is clear that “that which is born of the flesh is flesh,” and nothing more. Only “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Yet we hear of persons whose children do not need conversion. They are spoken of as being free from natural corruption, and born children of God, having a grace within which only needs to be developed. I am sorry to say that my father did not find me such a child. He found out early in my life that I was born in sin, and shapen in iniquity, and that folly was bound up in my heart. Friends and teachers soon perceived in me a natural depravity; and assuredly I have found it in myself: the sad discovery needed no very minute research, for the effect of the evil stared me in the face in my character. This tradition as to our being born with a holy nature is gaining foothold in the professing church, though contrary to Scripture, and even to the confessions of faith which are still avowedly maintained. Certain preachers hardly dare formulate it as a doctrine; but it is with them a kind of chaotic belief that there may be productions of the flesh which are very superior, and will serve well enough without the new birth of the Spirit. This tacit belief will lead up to birth-right membership; and that is fatal to any Christian community, wherever it comes to be the rule. Without conversion, in certain fellowships, the young people drift into the church as a matter of course, and the church becomes only a part of the world, with the Christian name affixed to it. May we never in our churches sink into that condition! That religion which is a mere family appendage is of little worth. The true seed are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” We have not received our faith by tradition from our parents; and yet some of us, if true faith could be so received, would certainly have thus received it, for if we are not Hebrews of the Hebrews, yet according to our family-tree we are Puritans of the Puritans, descended throughout many generations of believers. Of this we make small account before God, though we are not ashamed of it before men. We have no father in our spiritual life but the Lord himself, and we have not received that life, or the gospel, by any carnal parentage, but of the Lord alone.
Brethren, we have not received the gospel, nor do we now receive it, because of the teaching of any man, or set of men. Do you receive anything because Calvin taught it? If so, you had need look to your foundations. Do you believe a doctrine because John Wesley preached it? If so, you have reason to mind what you are at. God’s way, by which we are to receive the truth, is to receive it by the Holy Ghost. It is helpful to me to know what such and such a minister believed. The judgment of a holy, godly, clear-sighted, gifted divine is not to be despised: it deserves to have due weight with us. He is as likely to be right as we are; and we should differ from a grace-taught man with some hesitancy. But it is a very different thing to say, “I believe it on this good man’s authority.” In our raw state as young Christians, it may not be injurious to receive truth from pastors and parents, and so on; but if we are to become men in Christ Jesus, and teachers of others, we must quit the childish habit of dependence on others, and search for ourselves. We may now leave the egg, and get rid of the pieces of shell as quickly as may be. It is our duty to search the Scriptures to see whether these things be so; and more, it is our wisdom to cry for grace to appropriate each truth, and let it dwell in our inmost nature. It is time that we should be able to say, “This truth is now as personally my own as if I had never heard it from lip of man. I receive it because it has been written on my own heart by the Lord himself. Its coming to me is not after men.”
There is an opinion current in certain circles that you must not receive anything unless it is taught you of men: the word “men” being swallowed up and hidden away, but being there, after all, under the term “the church.” The church is set up as the great authority. If she has sanctioned it, you dare not question it; if she decrees, it is yours to obey. But this is to receive a gospel “after man” with a vengeance. And the process involved is a strange one. You must trace a dogma as coming through a continuous visible church, and this will lead you through the Cloaca Maxima of old Rome . Though truth be manifestly clear and pure, and prove itself to be the water of life to you, yet you must not accept it; but you must betake yourself to the mudded stream which can be traced through the foul channel of a continuous church, which for ages has apostatized. My dear brethren, a doctrine’s being believed by what may in courtesy be called “the church” is no voucher for it: the most of us would almost regard it as being a question to be raised whether teaching can be true which has been vouched for by those great worldly corporations which have usurped the name of churches of Christ. Several sects claim apostolical succession, and if any possess it, the Baptists are the most likely, since they practice the ordinances as they were delivered; but we do not even care to trace our pedigree through the long line of martyrs, and of men abhorred by ecclesiastics. If we could do this without a break, the result would be of no value in our eyes; for the rag of apostolical succession” is not worth warehouse-room. Those who contend for the fiction may monopolize it if they will. We do not receive the revelation of God because it has been received by a succession of fathers, monks, abbots, and bishops. We are right glad when we perceive that certain of them saw the truth of God, and taught it; but that fact does not make it truth to us. We would each one say, “I certify to you brethren that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.” We never think of quoting the community of men called “the church” as the ultimate authority with conscience. “We have not so learned Christ.”
Furthermore, I hope I shall speak for all of you here when I say that we have received the truth personally by the revelation of it to our own souls by the Spirit of the Lord. Albeit that in so large a company as this I fear there may be a Judas, and the Lord, is it I?” may well be passed round with holy self-suspicion; yet we can all say, unless fearfully deceived, that we have received the truth which we preach by the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit. Let us turn to our diaries, though the dates are now far away in the long-ago. We remember when the light broke in, and revealed our lost estate, and thus began the ground-work of our teaching. Ah, friends! the darker doctrines which make up the foil of the priceless jewels of the gospel, do you not remember when you received them with power? That I was guilty, I believed, for I was so taught; but then and there I knew in my soul that it was so. Oh, how I knew it! Guilty before God, “condemned already,” and lying under the present curse of a broken law, I was sore dismayed. I had heard the law of God preached, and I had trembled as I heard it; but now I felt an inward conviction of personal guilt of the most piercing character. I saw myself a sinner; and what a sight is that! Fearfulness took hold upon me, and shame and dread. Then I saw how true was the doctrine of the sinfulness of sin; and what a punishment it must involve. That doctrine I no longer received of men.
The precious doctrine of peace through the precious blood of Jesus, we also know by inward personal teaching. We used to hear and sing of the great Sacrifice, and of the love of him who bore our sins in his own body on the tree; but now we stood at the cross-foot: for ourselves we beheld that dear face, and gazed into the eyes so full of pity, and saw the hands and feet that were fastened to the wood for our sakes. Oh, when we saw the Lord Jesus, as our Surety, smarting for our offense, then we received the truth of redemption and atonement in a way that was “not after man”!
Yes, those gracious men who have gone to heaven did preach the gospel to us fully and earnestly, and they labored to make known Christ to us; but to reveal the Son of God in us was beyond their power. They could as easily have created a world as have made these truths vital to us. We say, therefore, each one from his inmost soul, “I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man;” so far as the way by which we have come to know and feel it within our own souls.
Since our first days we have experienced a gradual opening up of the gospel to our understanding, but in all that process, our real progress has been of God, and not of men. Brethren, you read commentators—that is to say, if your own comments are worth hearing; you read the books of godly men—that is to say, if you yourselves ever say anything worth reading; yet your spiritual learning, if it be true and real, is of the Lord’s imparting. Do we learn anything, in the most emphatic sense of learning, unless we are taught of the Lord? Is it not essential that God the Spirit should lay home the truth which has been spoken to you even by the ablest instructor? You have continued to be students ever since you left College; but your Tutor has been the Holy Spirit. By no other method can our spirits learn the truth of God but by the teaching of the Spirit of God. We can receive the shell and the outer form of theology, but the real Word of the Lord itself comes by the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all truth.
How sweetly the Spirit has taught us in meditation! Have you not often been surprised and overcome with delight as Holy Scripture has opened up, as if the gates of the golden city had been set back for you to enter? I am sure that you did not then gather your knowledge from men, because it was all fresh to you as you sat alone with no book before you but the Bible, and yourself receptive, scarcely thinking out matters, but drinking them in as the Lord brought them to you. A few minutes’ silent openness of soul before the Lord has brought us in more treasure of truth than hours of learned research. The truth is something like those stalactite caverns and grottoes of which we have heard, which you must enter and see for yourself if you would really know their wonders. If you should venture there without light or guide, you would run great risks; but with blazing flambeaux, and an instructed leader, your entrance is full of interest. See! your guide has taken you through a narrow winding passage, where you have to creep, or go on bended knees! At last he has brought you out into a magnificent hall; and when the torches are held aloft, the far-off roof sparkles and flashes back the light as from countless jewels of every hue! You now behold nature’s architecture; and cathedrals are henceforth toys to you. As you stand in that vast pillared and jewelled palace, you feel how much you owe to your guide, and to his flaming torch. Thus the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, and sheds light on the eternal and the mysterious. This he does in certain cases very personally. Then he fills us with complete forgetfulness of all our immediate surroundings, and we commune only with the truth. I can well understand how philosophers, while working out an absorbing problem, have seemed lost, and oblivious of all the world besides. Have you never felt a holy absorption in the truth while the Spirit has filled you with its glorious vision? It has been so with many of the saints while taught of God. They are not likely to give up to popular clamor what they have thus received.
How often has the Lord taught his servants his own truth in the school of tribulation! We speak well of meditation: it is as silver; but tribulation is as much fine gold. Tribulation not only worketh patience; but patience brings experience, and in experience there is a deep and intimate knowledge of the things of God which cometh by no other means. Do you know what it is to be in such pain that you could not bear one turn more of the screw, and have you, then, in faintness fallen back upon your pillow, and felt that even then you could not be more happy unless you were caught up to the third heaven? Then has it been verified to some of us that we can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth us. While lying in passive peace, it may be you have seen a Scripture come forth like a star between the cloud-rifts of a tempest, and it has shone with such lustre as only the Lord God could have given to it. Depression of spirit and torture of body have been forgotten, while the bright promise has made your soul full of light. There is a place in the far-back desert which you can never forget. There grows a bush. A very unpromising object is a bush; but it is sacred to you; for there the Lord revealed himself to you, and the bush burned with fire, but was not consumed. You will never unlearn the lesson of the burning bush. Do we know any truth till the Holy Spirit burns it into us, and engraves it on our soul as with an iron pen, and with the point of a diamond? There are ways of learning for which we are very grateful; but the surest way of learning divine truth is by having the word engrafted so as to take living hold upon the soul. Then we do not believe it only: we give our life to it: it lives in us, and at the same time we live upon it. Such truth throbs in every pulse; for it lives in us, and colors our being. The devil insinuates questions; but we are not accountable for what he pleases to do, and we care the less, because he now whispers into a deaf ear. When once the soul itself has received the truth, and it has come to permeate the entire being, we are not accessible to those doubts which I aforetimes pierced us like poisoned arrows.
I may add, concerning many of the truths of God, and the whole gospel system, that we have learned the truth thereof in the field of sacrifice and service with our Lord, so that to us it is not after man. If you do not believe in human depravity, accept a pastorate in this wicked London , and if you are true to your commission, you will doubt no more! If you do not believe in the necessity of the Holy Spirit to regenerate, take a charge over the cultured and polished congregation, that will hear all your rhetoric, and will remain as worldly and as frivolous as it was before. If you do not believe in the power of the atoning blood, never go and see believers die, for you will find that they trust in nothing else. A dying Christ is the last resort of the believer.
“When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my strength and stay. ”
If you do not believe in the election of grace, live where multitudes of men come under your notice, and persons most unlikely are called out from among them in surprising ways – and it will grow upon you. Here comes one who says, I have neither father, mother, brother, sister, nor friend who ever enters a place of worship. How came you to believe? I heard a word in the street, sir, quite by accident that brought me to tremble before God. Here is the election of grace. Here comes another, dark in mind, troubled in soul, and she is a member of a family all of them members of your church, all happy and rejoicing in the Lord; and yet this poor creature cannot lay hold upon Christ by faith. To your great joy, you set before her Christ in all his fullness of grace, and she becomes the brightest of the whole circle; for they never knew the darkness as she did, and they can never rejoice in the light as she delights in it. To find a greatly-loving saint you must find one who has had much forgiven. The woman that was a sinner is the only one that will wash Christ’s feet. There is raw material in a Publican which you seldom find in a Pharisee. A Pharisee may polish up into an ordinary Christian; but somehow there is a charming touch about the pardoned sinner which is lacking in the other. There is an election of grace, and you cannot help noticing, as you go about, how certain believers enter into the inner circle, while others linger in the outer courts. The Lord is sovereign in his gifts and doeth as he wills; and we are called to bow before his scepter within the church as well as at its portal. The longer I live the more sure I am that salvation is all of the grace, and that the Lord gives that grace according to his own will and purpose.
Once more, some of us have received the gospel because of the wonderful unction that has gone with it at times to our souls. I hope that none of us will ever fall into the snare of following the guidance of impressions made upon us by texts which happen to come prominently before our minds. You have judgements, and you must not lay them aside to be guided by accidental impressions. But for all that, and at the back of all that, there is not a man here that has led an eventful, useful life but must confess that certain of those acts of his life, upon which his whole history has hinged, are connected with influences upon his mind which were produced, as he believes, by super-natural agency. A passage of Holy Writ, which we have read a hundred times before, took us captive, and became the master of every thought. We steered by it as men trust the pole-star, and we found that our voyage was made easy thereby. Certain texts are, to our memory, sweet as wafers made with honey; for we know what they once did for us, and the recollection is refreshing. We have been revived from a fainting fit, nerved for a desperate effort, or fired for a sacrifice, by a Scripture which became no longer a word in a book, but the very voice of God to our soul—even that voice of the Lord, which is full of majesty. Have you not noticed how a turn of a word in a text has made it seem all the more fitted for you? It looked a very small point; but it was essential to its effect, just as a small notch in a key may be the exact form which makes it fit the lock. How much may hang on what seems, to the unspiritual, to be nothing more than a slight verbal distinction, or an unimportant turn of expression! A thought of primary importance may turn upon the singular of plural of a word. If it be the Greek word itself, the importance cannot be overestimated; but in an English word, in the translation, there may be well-nigh equal force, according as the word is true to the original. The many, who can only read our marvellous English Bible, come to prize its words because the Lord has blessed them to their souls. A simple Welsh friend believed that our Lord must have been a Welshman, because, said he, he always speaks to me in Welsh. To me it has often seemed as if the Well-beloved of my soul had been born in my native village, had gone to my school, and had passed through all my personal experiences; for he knows me better than I know myself. Although I know he was of Bethlehem , and Judaea, yet he seems like one of London , or of Surrey . Nay more; I see in him more than manhood could have made him; I discern in him a nature more than that of man; for he enters the inmost recesses of my soul, he reads me like an open page, he comforts me as one brought up with me, he dives into my deepest griefs and attends me in my highest joys. I have secrets in my heart which only he knows. Would God his secret were with me as mine is with him up to the measure of my capacity! It is because of that wonderful power which the Lord Jesus has over us through his sacred Word that we receive that Word from him, and receive it as not of man.
What is unction, my brethren? I fear that no one can help me by a definition. Who can define it? But yet we know where it is, and we certainly feel where it is not. When that unction perfumes the Word, it is its own interpreter, it is its own apologist, it is it own confirmation and proof, to the regenerate mind. Then the Word of God deals with us as no word of man ever did or could. We have not received it, therefore, of men. Constantly receiving the divine Word as we do, it comes to us with an energy ever fresh and forcible. It comes to us especially with a sanctifying power, which is the very best proof of its coming from the thrice-holy God. Philosophers words may teach us what holiness is, but God’s Word makes us holy. We hear our brethren exhort us to aspire to high degrees of grace, but God’s Word lifts us up to them. The Word is not merely an instrument of good, but the Holy Spirit makes it an active energy within the soul to purge the heart from the sin, so that it can be said, Ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you. When thus cleansed, you know that the Word is true. You are sure of it, and you no longer need even the most powerful book of evidences. You have the witness in yourself, the evidence of things not seen, the seal of eternal verity.
I have taken all this time upon how we receive the gospel, and therefore I must perforce be brief upon a further point.
2. TO US THE TRUTH ITSELF IS NOT AFTER MEN. I desire to assert this plainly. If any man thinks that the gospel is only one of many religions, let him candidly compare the Scripture of God with other pretended revelations. Have you ever done so? I have made it a College exercise with our brethren. I have said — We will read a chapter of the Koran. This is the Mahometan’s holy book. A man must have a strange mind who should mistake that rubbish for the utterances of inspiration. If he is at all familiar with the Old and New Testaments, when he hears an extract from the Koran, he feels that he has met with a foreign author: the God who gave us the Pentateuch could have had no hand in many portions of the Koran. One of the most modern pretenders to inspiration is the Book of Mormon. I could not blame you should you laugh outright while I read aloud a page from that farrago. Perhaps you know the Protevangelion, and other apocryphal New Testament books. It would be an insult to the judgement of the least in the kingdom of heaven to suppose that he could mistake the language of these forgeries for the language of the Holy Ghost. I have had several pretended revelations submitted to me by their several authors; for we have more of the prophetic clan about than most people know of; but no one of them has ever left on my mind the slightest suspicion of his sharing the inspiration of John, or Paul. There is no mistaking the inspired Books if you have any spiritual discernment. Once let the divine light dawn in the soul, and you perceive a colouring and a fashion in the product of inspiration which are not possible to mere men. Would one who doubts this write us a fifth Gospel? Would anyone among our poets attempt to write a new Psalm, which could be mistaken for a Psalm of David? I do not see why he could not, but I am sure he cannot. You can give us new psalmody, for it is an instinct of the Christian life to sing the praises of God; but you cannot match the glory of divinely-inspired song. Therefore we receive the Scripture, and consequently the gospel as not after man.
You say, perhaps, You are comparing books, and forgetting that your theme is the gospel. But this is only in appearance. I do not care to waste your time by asking you to compare the gospels of men. There is not another gospel that I know of that is worth the comparison for a single minute. Oh, but, they say, there is a gospel that is much wider than yours. Yes, I know that it is much wider than mine; but to what does it lead? They say that what is nicknamed Calvinism has a very narrow door. There is a word in Scripture about a strait gate and a narrow way; and therefore I am not alarmed by the accusation. But then there are rich pastures when you enter within, and this renders it worth while to enter in by the strait gate. Certain other systems have very wide doors; but they lead you into small privileges, and those of a precarious tenure. I hear certain invitations which might run as follows:—Come ye disconsolate; but if you come, you will be disconsolate still, for there will be no eternal made sure to you, and you must preserve your own souls, or perish after all. But I shall not enter into any comparisons, for they are odious in this case.
The gospel, our gospel, is beyond the strain and reach of human thought. When men have exercised themselves to the very highest in original conceptions, they have never yet thought out the true gospel. If it is such a common-place thing as the critics would have us believe, why did it arise in the minds of the Egyptians or Chinese? Great minds often run in the same grooves as those of Moses, or Isaiah, or Paul? I think it is a fair thing to say that, if it is such a common-place form of teaching, it might have arisen among the Persians or Hindoos; or, surely, we might have found something like it among the great teachers of Greece . Did any of these think out the doctrine of free and sovereign grace? Did they guess at the Incarnation and Sacrifice of the Son of God? No, even with the aid of our inspired Book, no Mahometan, to my knowledge, has taught a system of grace in which God is glorified as to his justice, his love, and his sovereignty. That sect has grasped a certain sort of predestination which it has defaced into blind faith; but even with that to help them, and the unity of the Godhead as a powerful light to aid them, they have never thought out a plan of salvation so just to God and so pacifying to the troubled conscience as the method of redemption by the substitution of our Lord Jesus.
I will give you another proof, which, to my mind, is conclusive that our gospel is not after men; and it is this—that it is immutable, and nothing that man produces can be so called. If man makes a gospel—and he is very fond of doing it, like children making toys—what does he do? He is very pleased with it for a few moments, and then he pulls it to pieces, and makes it up in another way; and this continually. The religions of modern thought are as changeable as the mists on the mountains. See how often science has altered its very basis! Science is notorious for being most scientific in destruction of all the science that has gone before it. I have sometimes indulged myself, in leisure moments, in reading ancient natural history, and nothing can be more comic. Yet this is by no means and abstruse science. In twenty years time, some of us may probably find great amusement in the serious scientific teaching of the present hour, even as we do now in the systems of the last century. It may happen that, in a little time, the doctrine of evolution will be the standing jest of schoolboys. The like is true of the modern divinity which bows its knee in blind idolatry of so-called science. Now we say, and do so with all our heart, that the gospel which we preached forty years ago we will still preach in forty years time if we are alive. And, what is more, that the gospel which was taught of our Lord and his apostles is the only gospel now on the face of the earth. Ecclesiastics have altered the gospel, and if it had not been of God it would have been stifled by falsehood long ago; but because the Lord has made it, it abideth for ever. Everything human is before long moon-struck, so that it shifts with every phase of the lunar orb; but the Word of the Lord is not after men, for it is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
It cannot be after men, again, because it is so opposed to human pride. Other systems flatter men, but this speaks the truth. Hear the dreamers of to-day cry up the dignity of human nature! How sublime is man! But point me to a single syllable in which the Word of God sets itself to the extolling of man. On the contrary, it lays him in the very dust, and reveals his condemnation. Where is boasting then? It is excluded: the door is shut in its face. The self-glorification of human nature is foreign to Scripture, which has for its grand object the glory of God. God is everything in the gospel which I preach, and I believe that he is all in all in your ministry also. There is a gospel in which the work and the glory are divided between God and man, and salvation is not altogether of grace; but in our gospel salvation is if the Lord. Man never could nor would have invented and devised a gospel which would lay him low, and secure to the Lord God all the honor and praise. This seems to me to be clear beyond all question; and hence our gospel is not after men.
Again, it is not after men, because it does not give sin any quarter. I have heard that an Englishman has professed himself a Mahometan because he is charmed by the polygamy which the Arabian prophet allows his followers. No doubt the prospect of four wives would win converts who would not be attracted by spiritual considerations. If you preach a gospel which makes allowances for human nature, and treats sin as if it were a mistake rather than a crime, you will find willing hearers. If you can provide absolution at small cost, and can ease conscience by a little self-denial, it will not be wonderful if your religion becomes fashionable. But our gospel declares that the wages of sin is death, and that we can only have eternal life as the gift of God; and that this gift always brings with it sorrow for sin, a hatred towards it, and an avoidance of it. Our gospel tells a man that he must be born again, and that without the new birth he will be lost eternally, while with it he will obtain everlasting salvation. Our gospel offers no excuse or cloak for sin, but condemns it utterly. It presents no pardon except through the great Atonement, and it will give that man no security who tries to harbour any sin in his bosom. Christ died for sin; and we must die to sin, or die eternally. If we preach the gospel faithfully, we must preach the law. You cannot fully preach salvation by Christ without setting Sinai at the back of the picture, and Calvary in the front. Men must be made to feel the evil of sin before they will prize the great Sacrifice which is the head and front of our gospel. This is not to the taste of this or any other age; and therefore I am sure man did not invent it.
We know that gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is not of men, because our gospel is so suitable for the poor and illiterate. The poor, according to the usual fashion of men, are overlooked. Parliament has enclosed all the commons, so that a poor man cannot keep a goose; I doubt not that, if it were likely to be effectual, we should soon hear of a Bill for distributing freeholds of the stars among certain sky-lords. It is evident that a fine property in the celestial regions is, at the present time, unregistered in any of our courts. Well, they may sooner enclose and assign the sun, moon, and stars than the gospel of our Lord Jesus. This is the poor man’s common. The poor have the gospel preached to them. Yet there are not a few nowadays who despise a gospel which the common people can hear and understand; and we may be sure that a plain gospel never came from them, for their taste does not lie in that direction. They want something abstruse, or, as they say, thoughtful. Do we not hear this sort of remark, We are an intellectual people, and need a cultured ministry. Those evangelistic preachers are all very well for popular assemblies, but we have always been select and require that preaching which is abreast of the times? Yes, yes, and their man will be one who will not preach the gospel unless it be in a clouded manner; for if he does not declare the gospel of Jesus, the poor will be sure to intrude themselves, and shock my lords and ladies. Brethren, our gospel does not know anything about high and low, rich and poor, black and white, cultured and uncultured. If it makes any difference, it prefers the poor and down-trodden. The great Founder of it says, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. We praise God that he has chosen the base things, and things that are despised. I hear it boasted of a man’s ministry, although it gradually diminishes the congregation, that it is doing a great work among thoughtful young men. I confess that I am not a believer in the existence of these thoughtful young men: those who mistake themselves for such I have generally found to be rather conceited than thoughtful. Young men are all very well, and so are young women, and old women also; but I am sent to preach the gospel to every creature, and I cannot limit myself to thoughtful young men. I certify to you that the gospel which I have preached is not after men, for it knows nothing of selection and exclusiveness, but it values the soul of a sweep or a dustman at the same price as that of the Lord Mayor, or her Majesty.
Lastly, we are sure that the gospel we have preached is not after men, because men do not take to it. It is opposed even to this day. If anything is hated bitterly, it is the out-and-out gospel of the grace of God, especially if that hateful word, sovereignty is mentioned with it. Dare to say, He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion, and furious critics will revile you without stint. The modern religionist not only hates the doctrine of sovereign grace, but he raves and rages at the mention of it. He would sooner hear you blaspheme than preach election by the Father, atonement by the Son, or regeneration by the Spirit. If you want to see a man worked up till the Satanic is clearly uppermost, let some of the new divines hear you preach a free-grace sermon. A gospel which is after men will be welcomed by men; but it needs a divine operation upon the heart and mind to make a man willing to receive into his utmost soul this distasteful gospel of the grace of God.
My dear Brethren, do not try to make it tasteful to carnal minds. Hide not the offense of the cross, lest you make it of none effect. The angles and corners of the gospel are its strength: to pare them off is to deprive it of power. Toning down is not the increase of strength, but the death of it. Why, even among the sects, you must have noticed that their distinguishing points are the horns of their power; and when these are practically omitted, the sect is effete. Learn, then, that if you take Christ out of Christianity, Christianity is dead. If you remove grace out of the gospel, the gospel is gone. If the people do not like the doctrine of grace, give them all the more of it. Whenever its enemies rail at a certain kind of gun, a wise military power will provide more of such artillery. A great general, going in before his king, stumbled over his own sword. I see, said the king, your sword in is the way. The warrior answered, Your majesty’s enemies have often felt the same. That our gospel offends the King’s enemies is no regret to us.
Dear friends, if it be so that we have not received the gospel from man, but from God, let us continue to receive truth by the divinely-appointed channel of faith. Are you sure that you ever will to the full understand the truth of God? With most of us the understanding is like a narrow postern gate to the city of Mansoul , and the great things of God cannot be so cut down as to be brought in by that entrance. The door is not wide enough. But our city has a great gate called faith, through which even the infinite and eternal may be admitted. Give over the hopeless effort of dragging into the mind by efforts of reason that which can so readily dwell in you by the Holy Ghost through faith. We that speak against rationalism are ourselves apt to reason too much; and there is nothing so unreasonable as to hope to receive the things of God by reasoning them out. Let us believe them upon the divine testimony; and when they try us, and even when they seem to grate upon the sensibilities of humanity let us receive them none the less for that. We are not to be judges of what God’s truth ought to be; we are to accept it as the Lord reveals it.
Next, let us, each one, expect opposition if he receives the truth from the Lord, and especially opposition from one person who is both near and dear to him—namely, himself. There is a certain old man who is yet alive, and he is no lover of the truth; but, on the contrary, he is a partisan of falsehood. I heard a gracious policeman say that, when he stood in Trafalgar Square , and fellows of the baser sort kicked him and the other police, he felt a bone of the old man stirring within him. Ah, we have felt that bone too often! The carnal nature opposes the truth, for it is not reconciled to God, neither, indeed, can be. Let us pray the Lord to conquer our pride, that the truth may dominate us, despite our evil hearts. As to the outside world opposing, we are not at all alarmed by that fact, for it is exactly what we were taught to expect. We are now unmoved by opposition. The captain of a ship minds not if a little spray breaks over him.
Remember that, if you did not receive the truth except through the power of the Spirit of God, you cannot expect others to do so. They will not believe your report unless the arm of the Lord be revealed to them. But then, if faith be the Holy Ghost’s work, we need not fear that men can destroy it. Those who attempt to change our belief may well be a little dubious as to their success in the task they have undertaken. If faith be a divine work within our souls, we may defy all sophistries, flatteries, temptations, and threats. We shall be divinely obstinate: those who would pervert us will have to give us up. Possibly they will call us bigots, or hard-shells, or even idiots; but this also signifies little if our names are written in heaven.
Let us also conclude from our subject that if these things come to us from God, we can safely rest our all upon them. If they came to us of men, they would probably fail us at a crisis. Did you ever trust men, and not rue the day ere the sun was down? Did you ever rely on an arm of flesh without discovering that the best of men are men at the best? But if these things come of God, they are eternal and all sufficient. We can both live and die upon the everlasting gospel. Let us deal more and more with God, and with him only. If we have obtained light from him, there is more of blessing to be had. Let us go to that same Teacher, that we may learn more of the deep things of God. Let us bravely believe in the success of the gospel which we have received. We believe in it: let us believe for it. We will not despair though the whole visible church should apostatize. When invaders had surrounded Rome , and all the country lay at their mercy, a piece of land was to be sold, and a Roman bought it at a fair value. The enemy was there, but he would be dislodged. The enemy might destroy the Roman State . Let him try it! Be you of the same mind. The God of Jacob is our Refuge, and none can stand against his eternal power and Godhead. The everlasting gospel is our banner, and with Jehovah to maintain it, our standard never shall be lowered. In the power of the Holy Ghost truth is invincible. Come on, ye hosts of hell and armies of the aliens! Let craft and criticism, rationalism and priestcraft do their best! The Word of the Lord endureth for ever—even that Word which by the gospel is preached unto men.