Chapter 21: The Sinner’s Excuses Refuted By The Cross
God has constituted men capable of judging what is right, not only in respect to other men, but in respect to their own character and conduct. He often appeals to their own judgment and conscience, whether the course they are pursuing is right, and can be defended by themselves; and if they think it can, he challenges them to make their pretensions good.
Are there none of my readers to whom such an appeal as this may be addressed with strong propriety? Has not the God of heaven revealed to you the greatness and goodness of his own infinite nature, called upon you to give him your hearts, and become reconciled to him through the great atonement of his Son? The voice of the cross to all who reject its great salvation is, "Turn you, turn you, why will you die?" "Produce your cause, says the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, says the King of Jacob." "Saul, Saul, why persecute you me?" You have placed yourselves in a false and untenable position, and cannot defend your present course of conduct, save by reasons that carry with them their own refutation.
It is from a conviction that nothing more is necessary, in order to show the unreasonableness of the course the unbeliever is pursuing, than for him to produce and consider the strong reasons that are given in defense of it, that I venture to hope for his serious attention, while I state and consider some of these reasons in the present chapter. And let his prayer—let our united prayers—ascend to the God of grace, that these reasons may be so considered, that he may see that he is without excuse before God, and has no time to lose in escaping from these delusions, and laying hold of the hope set before him!
There is a class of people, who assign as a reason for their not becoming Christians, that they are not so well satisfied as they desire to be of the great and fundamental truths which the cross reveals. They do not question that the Bible is the word of God, and contains great and essential doctrines—doctrines which constitute the essence of Divine revelation; that are necessary to its very existence; and that must be believed, loved, and obeyed, in order to salvation. But they are not decided as to what these doctrines are. They tell you that men have differed in their views of them, and differ still; and it ought not to be expected that they should commit themselves prematurely upon subjects of such vital importance. There is no doubt that this is one of the reasons which act upon a certain class of minds, in producing hesitation and delay in the all-important concern of personal religion. We do not deny that great importance is to be attached to the belief of the truth. There are truths which no man can reject, and be a Christian; and in which all real Christians are firmly established. But it is not to be forgotten, that a belief of all the truths which God has revealed is not indispensable to a man’s becoming a Christian, unless he be acquainted with them all, and willfully reject them. Many people may not understand all that God has revealed; no one man ever fully understood it all. A man may know enough to become a better man, and a sincere follower of Christ, without knowing everything. The true way of knowing, is to practice what we know. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God." It is the duty of Christians to be better acquainted with the truth of God; but I would be slow to say, that no man can be a Christian who has not much to learn. The question is not whether you ought not to know more, but whether you do not know enough to leave you without excuse for not becoming a child of God? I am satisfied to leave this question with your own conscience. "To him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin." You shall judge yourself by this simple rule. There is no reader, even of these humble pages, whose conscience is satisfied with the plea of ignorance; and he that makes this plea will have a fearful account to render. If this be the great difficulty in the way of your salvation, and this alone is shutting you out of the kingdom of God, there is one thought you would do well to consider. While you hesitate, God is deciding. While you delay, death hastens. While you remain halting between conflicting opinions, the day draws near, when "that servant which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes."
There is another class of people who allege as the great reason for not becoming Christians, that they have not time. This reason is fatal to piety, if it be true. Religion requires time. It requires fixed and steady thought. It can never be obtained by a slight and cursory view of its importance, nor without drawing toward it the warmest affections of the heart. If there be any man who has no time to attend to it, I see not but his prospects for eternity are dark and gloomy to the last degree.
Time is unspeakably precious. It is the gift of God, and no wealth of the world can purchase it. A dying queen once exclaimed, "Millions of money for a moment of time!" We may well pity the man who has no time to become a Christian.
It would be strange if God had so ordered the affairs of men that they should not have time for all that he requires of them. He does require them to repent and believe the gospel; and he never would have required this, on such fearful pains and penalties, without giving them time to attend to this great duty. He has told those who the great business and end of human life is to fear God and keep his commandments; and, whatever else they pursue, to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." He has given them time for this object more than for any other purpose in the world. He knows their earthly wants, and has given them time for these; and he knows their spiritual wants, and has given them time for these. If men will devote all their time to the pursuits of earth, and leave none for God and eternity, they do it in opposition to his commands and counsel, in violation of the wise arrangements of his providence, and at their own peril. I say they do this in violation of the wise arrangements of his providence. Men who conscientiously devote time to this great work, have never found that it interferes with other duties, but rather prepares them for, and assists them in, performing other duties, and secures the Divine blessing upon the work of their hands. They save time by devoting a due portion of it to the concerns of eternity. The true difficulty with those who complain that they have no time for the business of religion is, that they have not just impressions of the importance of religion. Men always find time for what they think the most important; and whenever the duties of religion appear to them the most important, they will no longer plead that they have no time to attend to this great concern.
How much time do you devote to this great subject? Is it an hour in the day? Is it even one day out of seven? Or is God’s holy sabbath so embarrassed and divided by the cares and thoughts of business, that when you go to the sanctuary, your mind is so preoccupied by the world, and so shut out from all heavenly influences, that an angel from heaven could not penetrate your conscience? Besides, does it not strike your minds as somewhat extraordinary reasoning for a man to say, "Human life is so short and uncertain, and I must die so soon that I have no time to think of God and eternity?" Are men sincere who reason thus? The time will come when this reasoning will hold good, and it may come soon; but, thanks to forbearing mercy, that melancholy hour has not yet arrived! Such reasoning sounds like a voice from the grave. A man who can soberly reason thus, must feel himself to be a dying man. On your bed of death, you may well say, "I have no time to attend to religion now. Little did I think that my sun would set so soon, and go down in never-ending night!" We do indeed sometimes hear this reasoning from the trembling lips of the aged sinner. I have heard it, too, urged with deep and bitter sincerity by men who have grieved God’s Holy Spirit, and are given up to despair. Such people not infrequently say, "My time has gone by. It is too late for me to think of heaven now!" But this is not the reader’s apology. No—he is in the bloom of childhood; or in the vigor and hopes of youth; or amid the enterprises and acquisitions of middle life. Strange to say, those whose morning is clear and serene, and whose mid-day has scarcely been intercepted by a cloud, are urging the want of time and opportunity as one of the reasons why they do not become Christians! But is it so? No, it is not so. There is not a man that lives, who has not time to prepare to die.
There is another class of people who urge as the reason for their neglect of religion, that they have known very many excellent people who were not Christians. The meaning of this objection is nothing more nor less than this, that men may be very excellent men without religion. If this be so, the consequence is, that religion is not necessary. But does the objector mean to say this? For if men, however excellent they may be, cannot be saved without the religion of the gospel, their excellence avails them nothing.
We do not deny that, in one view, there are many excellent people who are not Christians. There are kind husbands, careful fathers, dutiful children, excellent merchants, excellent mechanics, excellent scholars, vigorous magistrates, and worthy citizens, who are not Christians. Some of them have a great many more excellent qualities than some who profess to be the disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. But by the very terms of the objection, they are not Christians. They lack this "one thing." Their excellence does not flow from any religious principle. They never act from a sense of religious duty, or from any regard to the authority and love of God. Now we complain, not so much of what such men are, as of what they are not. We say they have deficiencies, which, if unsupplied, leave them "weighed in the balance and found wanting" when their character comes under review before the last tribunal. I said, we complain not of what they are. But I must modify this thought. In our estimate of moral character, we are never to lose sight of the truth, that he that is not for Christ is against him, and he that does not love God is his enemy. The declared enemy of God does no more than refuse to love him. This is the source of his hostility, that he refuses to love. He carries within him a secret alienation of heart to the character, government, and gospel of the ever-blessed God. The most thorough infidel is not more at heart the enemy of God than such a man. And is this a small sin? Is it not the sin that infallibly destroys the soul? Painful as the thought is, when these excellent people who are not Christians come to die, the God of mercy will say to them, "Depart you cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." There are multitudes of such excellent people who are not Christians, who have long since been "turned into hell" with "all the nations that forget God."
There is another class of people who urge as a reason for their not becoming Christians, that Christians themselves do not live up to their profession. It is no part of our business to justify or palliate the sins of good men. God does not palliate them; they themselves do not palliate them; and they have no wish that they should be palliated. While it is altogether right and reasonable that they should be without sin, and while God requires them to be so, the melancholy fact is, there never was a man from the days of Adam down to the present hour, who was perfect in holiness. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." It ought not therefore to be matter of surprise that good men are not angels—this is just the representation which the Scriptures give of their imperfect character. "We have no objection to perfect Christians, if we could see them; but all whom we ever yet have seen, had something daily to confess and be forgiven, and much need to grow better."
We may indeed wonder that Christians are not better than they are. When we consider their obligations to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;" when we consider the great love of God toward them, and the means they enjoy of making continual advances in the Divine life; when we reflect upon the exceeding great and precious promises for their encouragement and consolation, and upon the many weighty and tender inducements to "forget the things that are behind and reach forth to those that are before;" when we advert to their own hopes, and enjoyments, and professions, and covenant engagements; when we think of that mercy-seat to which they have access, that Savior who of God is made to them sanctification as well as righteousness, that church to whom their sin is such a reproach, and that world to which their inconsistent walk and conversation is such a stumbling-block; we may indeed wonder that they walk not more worthy of their vocation, and are not bitterly dissatisfied with themselves in proportion as they come short of the glory of God. But in another view, we may well wonder they are not a thousand fold worse than they are. They have by nature "an evil heart of unbelief;" a heart "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked;" a heart prone to pride, envy, anger, sloth, ingratitude, rashness, folly, and every form of evil affection. They inhabit a body weak, frail, suffering, nervous and irritable, sometimes excited, and sometimes depressed, and are of like passions with every unrenewed man. They dwell in a world, too, where they are exposed and tempted to sin on every side; where they have trial, on the one hand, of vain flatteries, and on the other of cruel mockings; where favor, frowns, authority, and fashion, would seduce them from their integrity; and where it were not strange if their faith sometimes wavers. Opulence and honor tempt them to forbidden paths. Riches increase, and they set their hearts upon them. Business occupies and perplexes them, and cools their zeal. The enjoyments of sense and the allurements of pleasure fascinate them. Spiritual enemies beset them in every guise, and under every cloak of treachery, in order to take every advantage of their present state of moral imperfection, and to plunge them in darkness, doubts and disobedience. The great adversary knows that when they wander from God, they are as weak as other men; and he does not fail to employ his power and subtlety to overcome them. They are always watched and tempted by him, when they are the least fitted to shun or resist his temptations. He is by no means ignorant of the weak and accessible points in their character; he knows their tempers and circumstances, and can tell, often better than they themselves, the "sin that does most easily beset" them, and stands ready, by his fiery darts, to kindle into a blaze the combustible materials within them. It is indeed a wonder of mercy that they are not a thousandfold worse than they are. And it is owing to nothing but the riches of that mercy, restraining their corruptions, preventing them in the hour of temptation, watching over them with a father’s love and care, placing underneath them the everlasting arms, and compassing "them about with favor as with a shield," that they walk in safety and in peace. We do not appreciate the effort, the constant, the amazing effort of Divine power and faithfulness that makes them what they are. Grace does not complete its work in a day. The man who is naturally covetous does not eradicate the love of money by a single effort. The man who is naturally high-spirited and overbearing does not imbibe all the meekness and gentleness of a little child without much watchfulness and prayer, and many a scene of mortification and defeat. The man who has never learned to govern his tongue, nor repress his resentment, nor curb his impatience, nor subdue his timidity, nor rouse himself from his sloth and luxury, nor control his indiscretions, before his conversion, may have made greater and more visible improvement in the opposite virtues, after he becomes a Christian, than the unconverted man who is naturally cautious and gentle, or bold, active and abstemious. Not only is it possible that you expect from Christians more than you will ever realize, but that you watch for their halting; are eagle-eyed to observe and aggravate their faults; eat up the sin of God’s people, as you eat bread no, more, that you condescend to the devil’s work, by provoking, deceiving, ensnaring, and tempting them to sin, on purpose to triumph in their fall, and in their wickedness find the miserable excuse for your own incorrigible impenitence.
But even after all the faults of Christians, and all your eagerness to discover and magnify them, do you not find them Christians still? Did the men of the world possess their character, would you not commend it? Were the Christians to whom you refer in all respects just what they are, and had they never named the name of Christ before men, would you not think and speak well of them? Would you not think the community the losers, the moral atmosphere less pure, and the tone of moral principle less elevated and commanding, were there no such Christians in the world? There may be dishonest men, deceiving and lying men, impure men, men who make "a gain of godliness," in every church. There may be self-deceived men, who have come into the church in an unguarded hour, and under the mere impulse of animal excitement. Of such people we have no reasonable hope that they will "witness a good confession," or, when hardly pressed, will so demean themselves as not to bring reproach on that sacred name by which they are called. And there may be real Christians, who fall, and cover themselves and the church with sackcloth. But their wickedness is no reason for your neglecting the gospel. They are not the standard of piety. Even were all the Christians in the world hypocrites, their hypocrisy would not release you from the obligation of becoming the child of God. If you wait until Christians are what they ought to be, you will wait a long time. Death will make fearful inroads in our world, and one generation of the godly after another will descend to the tomb, and ascend to their Father’s house, before they will see him as he is, and be like him. Many who now name the name of Christ, will stumble, and fall, and perish; while all his true disciples, through grace helping them, will still travel on in the strait and narrow way, and, after many sins, and deep repentance, and many discouragements and trials, having "washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," will enter into the heavenly city; and you, who have made their sins the reason of your impenitence, will be left to mourn that you have stumbled over their imperfections into the fire that shall never be quenched.
There is also a class of people who urge as a reason for their hesitation in this great matter, that they shall not hold out, if they undertake it ever so earnestly. They read in the Scriptures such passages as these—"If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him;" "No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Declarations like these alarm them, and they tremble at the thought of entering upon the Christian life. They have so many melancholy examples of apostasy before their eyes, that their fears have become predominant, and they have resolved not to do as others have done, lest their last state should "be worse than the first."
There is some plausibility in this reasoning. No man is justified in turning his attention to religion lightly, or with any other views than of persevering to the last. No man is justified in thinking of it as a secondary concern, or one that may be pursued without effort, and in which there are no dangers to be guarded against, no enemies to be resisted, no trials to be encountered, no sacrifices to be made, no difficulties to be overcome; or one in which a final failure is not attended with disastrous consequences.
But shall the fear of not being able to hold out prevent any man from becoming the true follower of Christ? Will he ever hold out, if he does not begin? Will he ever travel on in the narrow way that leads to life, if he never enters it? What if he waits half a century; will he be any nearer gaining the victory, if he does not put on the armor? What if all the Christians now on earth and in heaven had been prevented from going to Christ by such reasoning as this? What if every impenitent sinner should be prevented from going to him by such apprehensions? If the reason be justifiable, and hold good in any case, it is justifiable and holds good in every case; and there is an end to true religion in our world. The difficulty does not actually lie in the fear of falling away when once a man has entered upon the Christian career; it lies deeper than this—it is his reluctance to enter it. He foresees the obstacles; he knows that if he once begin, he must persevere, and will persevere, and therefore he hesitates at taking the first step. He is not willing to give the cross the first place in his affections; to root out every idol; to renounce every other master; to forsake the world, and give up whatever is inconsistent with his will and glory; to come just as he is, a lost and helpless sinner, and put his trust in Christ alone for salvation. Without doing this, the first step is not taken. Let this difficulty be removed, and though prayer, and pains, and watchfulness, and snares, and dangers, may attend him all his way through the wilderness, he has the promise that "He which has begun a good work" within him, "will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." And though heaven and earth may pass away, not one jot, or one tittle, of all that God has promised shall fail. The man who once enters the way of life, will go forward because propelled by almighty grace. God will not suffer him ever so to break away from the cross, as finally to perish. Grace will not only keep him if he remain faithful, but will make him faithful. But for this, we know you would not hold out. And here lies the fallacy of your excuse. You trust not to Christ in the promise. You expect to faint and be weary, and utterly fail, because you do not think of Him who "gives power to the faint; and to those who have no might he increases strength." You tremble at dangers and discouragements, because you forget Him who will "gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom," and "gently lead the weak ones of the flock." You fear to commit yourself, because you have overlooked the declaration, "My grace is sufficient for you."
There are not a few people, also, who urge as a reason for their not becoming pious, that their companions and friends are not Christians. They do not like the idea of being singular, and standing alone. They live in an irreligious family, and are surrounded with irreligious associates. Those with whom they are in the habit of familiar communion scoff at religion, and ridicule all serious attention to the concerns of the soul. Their gay acquaintances will think it very strange of them, if they forsake their society, and cast in their lot with the society of the godly.
Some of my readers would be very ungrateful to urge such an excuse as this. You were educated and live in the society of God’s people, where the deepest interest is felt in your spiritual welfare, and where every sorrow would be diminished, and every joy quickened, by your becoming a follower of the Lamb. You have not to do as Abraham did, get out from your country, and your kindred, and your father’s house, in order to become united with the visible people of God. You have no impious relatives to stifle your first convictions in their birth, but rather those whose tears would fall, whose prayers would rise, and whose hearts would leap for joy, at the first intimation that you remember your Creator in the days of your youth, and are setting your face toward Zion.
And how do those of you who have associations less favorable to piety than these, know that those around you will feel the wound, and be grieved? and what right have you to say they will ridicule and ensnare you in your course toward heaven? Have they done it? Have they threatened to do so? Have they told you that you may count on their hostility? If not, may you not be doing great injustice to their character, to presume that they are such enemies of God and all righteousness, such children of the devil, as to scoff and sneer, because you would sincerely make the cross your refuge, and the God of heaven your portion? What would you say, if you knew they were indulging the same unworthy suspicions of you—and were now hesitating between Christ and the world, and balancing the question between heaven and hell, through the apprehension of your opposition and raillery? Who can tell but your indifference to this great subject is the reason with them for neglecting it; and that, notwithstanding this, they may have firmness enough to resist and overcome it, and enter into the kingdom of God, while you are cast out? And even if it be otherwise, who can tell but through your piety they may become pious, and that both you and they may yet be found traveling together in the strait and narrow way that leads to life, as you have been in the broad way that leads to death? But what if it be not so? Have you never learned that it is "through much tribulation" that you may be called to "enter the kingdom of heaven?" Have you never heard of those whose faithfulness to Christ and his gospel exposed them to "trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yes, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment?" Did you never read of those who were stoned, and sawn asunder, and tempted, and "slain with the sword," and "wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented," because they held fast the testimony of Jesus? Shall the sneers of men, or their mockery, or rancor, drive you to perdition? Were it not easier and better meekly to endure their reproaches now, than to endure them, and your own, and the reproaches of the universe forever? Will you go to everlasting burnings for fear of being laughed at as an enthusiast by those who have neither the fear of God before their eyes, nor the love of Jesus Christ in their hearts? Is all your civility due to a world that lies in wickedness, and none to the Savior of lost men? Are no compliances and concessions demanded by the cause of truth and righteousness? Is it of no consequence that you be reconciled to the God that made you? It is not wonderful that you should desire to conciliate the esteem and favor of men, but they are purchased at too dear a rate by forfeiting the favor of God and the loss of the soul.
There are also those who are deterred from becoming Christians, because they know not if God will accept them. When we urge men, who are anxious for their salvation, to become reconciled to God; when we cut them off from every other refuge, and tell them, without delay, to repent and believe the gospel; they often become benighted and distressed, and say that they are such great sinners that it is very doubtful whether they will ever be accepted.
Such people want more encouragement than even the cross of Christ can give them. That cross sets before them the fullness and freeness of the great salvation. On the authority of God, it invites and urges them to come to Christ that they may have life. It instructs those who the ground of their acceptance is not in themselves, but out of themselves, and in the work of Christ alone. It assures those who the greatest sinner, as well as the least sinner, if he comes to Jesus, will find a cordial and ready acceptance with God; because neither the greatness nor the smallness of his transgressions has anything to do with the matter of his acceptance, and that God requires him simply to fall in with his own method of mercy, and receive Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel. Where, then, is there any room for the objection, "I know not if God will accept me?" Such a man knows that if he goes to Christ he will be accepted; and that if he stays away from Christ, he will not be accepted. Yet this does not satisfy him. No, this discourages and depresses him. The encouragement he wants is, to be comforted in his sins, and to be told that there is some promise in the word of God for people in his anxious condition, and while he is persevering in his agitated and remorseful impenitence. Therefore I have said he wants more encouragement than the cross can give him. The cross cannot give him the least encouragement so long as he stays away from Christ, grieves his Spirit, and persists in a rebellion not the less aggravated because it is accompanied by some convictions and anxieties. Such people profess to be seeking and striving to enter the kingdom of heaven; but it is no unusual thing for them to feel that they are at heart unfriendly to Jesus Christ, and to be themselves conscious that they choose death rather than life. But whether they are conscious of it or not, we know the fact is so. And yet they are anxious for the salvation of their souls. But what does the anxiety of all those who reject the gospel salvation amount to, more than an earnest desire to be delivered from hell, and, at the same time maintain their alienation from God? This is their embarrassment, and we cannot relieve it, nor have we any desire to do so if we could. This is their reason for not becoming Christians. And who can answer it? So long as those who feel and reason thus, continue to plead this reason for not becoming the followers of Christ, their case is hopeless; and the longer they remain in this state, the further are they from becoming Christians, and the less likely to become Christians at all.
There are still others who say, I cannot become a Christian.
You do not mean, by this, that it is an impossible thing, even by the grace of God, for you ever to become an altered man. If so, to you these lessons from the cross are vain; in vain has God sent his Son to die, his Spirit to convince, his ordinances to quicken; in vain his love expostulates and urges you to repentance; for, after all, you must "die in your sins." You probably mean, that in your present state of mind, and with your present character, it is impossible for you to repent, and believe the gospel. There is no disputing this; it is too obvious. So long as you are the enemy of God, you cannot be his friend; so long as you love sin, you cannot turn from it; and while you reject Christ, you cannot come to him. There is a real, absolute impossibility in loving and hating, in receiving and rejecting, at the same time. But is this state of enmity and unbelief a right state of mind, and can it be justified? If not, and this is the only difficulty in the way of your becoming Christians, why do you cherish it? and why, in defiance to all instruction, rebuke and admonition—all the expostulations of love and mercy, all the strivings of God’s Spirit, and all the sober convictions of your own conscience—do you thus summon all your powers of reasoning to defend it? Why not yield to these admonitions, and frankly confess that this sinful state of mind is no excuse? God may, and must, and does, call upon you to exercise a different spirit, and one more in accordance with what you yourself cannot help seeing to be your known duty. It is not easy to perceive how a man can be condemned out of his own mouth, if not by such reasoning as this.
Perhaps you will reply, that you are sensible of this, and that, while you know this guilty state of mind is all wrong, yet you cannot subdue it, this is altogether another matter. If you are sensible of this, and know that this your strongest and last fortress exposes and condemns you, is it not marvelous that you consent to urge it, and to impose upon yourself, and fortify your obduracy, by reasoning which you know to be unsound, and in which you yourself have no confidence? Were it not better to be speechless, as you certainly will be at the last day, if you have nothing more to plead than this self-condemning apology! Were it not better to feel, and to say, that you have no excuse, and to bow down before God in deep self-loathing and reproach, and cry out, Guilty! guilty! lost! lost! lost! "Lord, save, or I perish!" There is difficulty in overcoming this state of mind—a difficulty that is insuperable except by mighty grace. It is a melancholy truth, that the tendency to sin in the human heart is invincibly strong; and that no man ever arrived at the possession of true godliness but by a process of feeling that gave him painful consciousness of the opposition of his heart to God, and his entire dependence on the Holy Spirit. A deep and impressive sense of this truth lies at the basis of all genuine conviction. But this is not the ground you occupy. You are pleading your dependence on the Spirit of God as an excuse, and as a reason that justifies you for not becoming a Christian. This, no man in a deeply serious state of mind ever does. The very fact that you are urging it as, perhaps, your strongest reason for continuing in impenitence, shows that it is insincerely urged, and that you have never felt the deep and humbling import of it. Would to God that you did feel it, and that it sunk so deeply into your heart as to turn your strength into weakness, your hopes into despair, and your self-confidence into that reliance on almighty grace which would inspire you with new hopes and new strength, and for once and forever teach you to say, "Without Christ, I can do nothing!" Heaven is high and you cannot reach it; but there is a ladder, like the one which Jacob saw, on which you may ascend, worm as you are, even to the bright pavilion where Jehovah dwells. No, there is an open way into the holiest of all by the blood of Christ. "I am the Way," says he; "no man comes unto the Father but by me." If you reply, you cannot even come to Christ without imparted help, this also is true. The Savior himself declares, "No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him." You cannot feel this truth too deeply. God "will have mercy on whom he will have mercy." He is under no obligation to make you "willing in the day of his power." You are in his hands just as the clay is in the hands of the potter. He may leave you to your own chosen way of death. He has a perfect right to do so, and may be provoked to do so by your wicked excuses. Not until you see and acknowledge this sovereign right of God, have you any such views and feelings as are befitting you as a lost sinner, and an unjustifiable rebel against the King of the universe. Had you some such views as these—had you such a sense of your vileness, ill-desert and helplessness, as to prostrate you in the dust before God, and make you feel that you are sinking in deep waters, and that nothing but almighty grace can take your feet from the horrible pit and the miry clay, and set them upon a rock—these vain excuses would appear to you as "refuges of lies." There would be hope for you then. You would not be far from the kingdom of heaven. Did you once glory in your infirmity, that the power of "Christ might rest upon you," so far from standing and complaining of difficulty, you would see that it is an easy thing to become a Christian, and wonder why you had not become so long ago. The work is done when you once feel that, though you are perfect weakness, you have omnipotence to rest upon. Burdened as you may be with sin, oppressed as you may be with doubt and fear, blinded as your dark mind may be, and miserable and undone—if, under this burden, this darkness, this wicked impotency, and these mighty woes you can repair to the cross, you shall not be sent empty away. Tears and sighs, and a broken heart, find a place at the mercy seat. "When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst, I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them."
Such are some of the sinner’s excuses for his continued impenitence. Do they hold good in view of the cross? Do they justify him in the view of his own conscience? Will they justify him on the bed of death? Will he plead them at the bar of judgment? Has he any good reason for not becoming a Christian? Must he not see that it is the most reasonable thing in the world that he should cease to contend with God, and no longer hold out against the claims of his redeeming love? Is there not some strange and infatuating delusion influencing his mind? When he reasons thus, is it not because his understanding is darkened, his judgment blinded, his reason warped? No sober man makes such gross blunders in reasoning as respects his temporal interests; and whence is it that he is so irrational in reference to those that are eternal? Has not the great adversary more to do with such a state of mind than men are aware of? Is he not doing all in his power to prevent the effect of the gospel, and to blind the minds of those who do not believe? It is difficult to explain the fact, that men capable of reasoning depart so widely from the truth, and come to such strange conclusions, on the subject of personal religion. The cross of Christ solemnly warns you against these devices. It will be no relief to you in the future world, that you were led away by these moral delusions; but you will rather wonder how your usual prudence and sagacity should have so forsaken you. It is a fearful thing thus to harden your heart, to add sin to sin, and weary yourself with committing iniquity, until you become a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction. You must soon go from these days of mercy to the day of judgment; from the light of time to the still stronger light of eternity. Abandon, then, these indefensible fortresses, these weak defenses of the carnal mind, these refuges of lies, and flee for refuge to the hope set before you in the gospel. Bow to the authority, be attracted by the love, of the cross. Receive that Savior, and instead of struggling any longer with Omnipotence, and striving against his Spirit, lift your eye to him with desire and hope. Then the dark cloud will be gone; the Sun of righteousness will shine; and you will have peace with God through Jesus Christ. You will no longer exhibit what ought to have been an anomaly in a world of reasonable beings—a wicked man rebelling against a good God—a weak and finite creature contending with a God of infinite power—an unhappy and miserable creature opposing the only means of blessedness—a lost sinner turning away from the only Savior—a rational existence, glorying in his reason, and yet calling in question the reasonableness of falling in with that method of mercy by which infinite wisdom and love are honored in the salvation of men.
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