Chapter 22: The Cross Rejected, The Great Sin
As the present chapter closes this volume, I propose to devote it to some considerations which I may not withhold from those of my readers who have long known and long rejected the truth and grace made manifest by the cross of Christ. In numberless forms of secret and overt iniquity, men have disregarded the Divine authority and abused the Divine goodness; but these are all venial offences compared with the sin of unbelief. This is the sin which, of all others, exposes them to the wrath and curse of God—the sin which it most becomes them to bewail and detest; it is emphatically the sin of which the Spirit of truth most deeply convinces those of its guilty perpetrators who are brought to repentance. "When He (the Spirit of truth) is come, he will convince the world of sin." And why will he convince the world of sin? Not because they are by nature children of wrath, not because their "heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked"—though of this apostate and guilty character he does convince them—but because they believe not on the Son of God. This is the "front of their offending." In the deliberate judgment of that Savior by whom the actions of men are weighed, it stands forth as the enormity of their crime, that "they believe not on him." It was a fearful crime to crucify the Son of God.
"I asked the heavens, What foe to God has done
This unexampled deed? The heavens exclaim,
"Twas man! and we, in horror, snatched the sun
From such a spectacle of guilt and shame.’
"I asked the sea—the sea in fury boiled,
And answered with his voice of storms, ‘Twas man!
My waves in panic at his crime recoiled,
Disclosed the abyss, and from the center ran.’
"I asked the earth—the earth replied, aghast,
”Twas man! and such strange pangs my bosom rent,
That still I groan and shudder at the past.’
To man, gay, smiling, thoughtless man, I went,
And asked him next—He turned a scornful eye,
Shook his proud head, and deigned me no reply."
Unbelief crucifies Him afresh. This is emphatically the sin of man; the sin which even devils have not perpetrated, and which remains the foul stain upon the character of the world where the Savior died, and where we dwell.
Not to receive the salvation purchased by the cross of Christ, appears, at first view, to be a negative sin, and one simply of omission. Many people regard it as the mere want of faith, and hence it seems to them a comparatively harmless thing. Nor may it be denied, that if unbelief consists in the mere absence of faith, there are many supposable instances in which it is certainly very harmless. It is a mere nothing, and has no moral quality whatever; for there can be no criminality in mere negation, or want of volition. But there is no such thing as this in the moral universe. There is, indeed, no harm in some of mankind not believing. This the apostle teaches, when he inquires concerning the heathen nations, "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" Those who have never heard of Christ cannot be blamed for not hearing, or for not believing. There is therefore something in unbelief more criminal than this mere want of faith. Nor does unbelief consist in speculative infidelity merely; speculative infidelity involves it; but the spirit of unbelief, in all its positive activity and energy, is often found where speculative infidelity has no place, and where men have no doubts of the truth of Christianity. Nor may it be confidently affirmed that unbelief consists in that diffidence of one’s good estate and acceptance with God, of which there are so many examples in men who give evidence of conversion. It may not be true that, in the same proportion in which a man doubts of his adoption into the Divine family, he is an unbeliever; nor, on the other hand, that, in the same proportion in which he has no doubts of his acceptance, he is a believer. Unbelief is not incompatible with presumptuous assurance; while there may be true faith, though weak and imperfect, where there is much diffidence and fear, many clouds, and deep darkness.
Unbelief is the opposite of belief—it is disbelief. It is the act of the mind rejecting the salvation of the cross. "He that is not with me," says the Savior, "is against me." Where his salvation is not the object of complacency and love, it is the object of aversion and hatred. The very indifference of men toward it, arises from a secret and unavowed hostility to its claims. What is indifference to the gospel, but a refusal to love it? and what do its declared enemies more than requite it with such refusal? When a man from the heart believes it, he receives, loves, and obeys it; when he disbelieves, he sincerely and heartily rejects it. This the Scriptures represent to be the nature of unbelief. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on his name." "Did you never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?" But first, the Son of man must "be rejected of this generation." The scribes and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves. Such is the view given of unbelief in several of the parables in the evangelical history, and particularly the parable of the marriage feast, the gospel supper, and the husbandman and the vineyard. Our blessed Lord describes this sin in that memorable declaration to the Jews, "You will not come to me that you might have life." This is the true character of unbelief. It is rejecting and opposing, with all the heart, the gospel of the grace of God. It is resisting its truth, rebelling against its authority, refusing its mercy, opposing its terms, and rejecting its holy salvation. Though multitudes do this, who have no just impressions of the wickedness of so doing, yet is it their great sin, their damning sin, and the sin that binds the guilt of all their other sins upon them. There must, therefore, be something peculiarly aggravated in this sin, whether we can discover it or not. And, if we mistake not, there are things discoverable in it, which may help us to some just views of its enormity. What are these things?
It is perfectly obvious that unbelief is a sin against great degrees of knowledge in regard to the obligation and duty of men as sinners. Sin is a violation of our obligations, whether those obligations be known or unknown; for even, he that knew not his master’s will, and did it not, was to be beaten, though with few stripes. In its highest and most aggravated forms, it is the violation of obligations that are known. "To him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin." Nothing so much aggravates the sins of men as light and knowledge; yet are these nowhere so concentrated as in the cross of Christ. The heathen have little knowledge, and therefore they have, compared with those who dwell in Christian lands, little sin. All that is excellent and lovely in the character of that great and good Being, who is himself the author of the Christian revelation—all that is affecting and solemn in the relations which exist between him and the creatures he has made—all that is binding in the precepts and prohibitions of his law, and all that is odious and vile in transgression—is most clearly and distinctly set before the mind in the teachings of the cross. Be the precept what it may which the unbeliever violates, the cross enforces it by the purest and the strongest light that ever shone, or ever will shine, on the minds of men. No man can disregard the claims of the gospel, except from a strength and vigor of wickedness which no Divine instruction can check, or subdue. It is impossible for him to disregard them, and sin at any common rate. With all their unnatural and brutal pollution, Sodom and Gomorrah never sinned as Chorazin and Bethsaida sinned, as every unbeliever in the cross in Christian lands sins. Such a man shows that he loves darkness rather than light; he shows that he loves to sin, and that he means to sin, in defiance of all the claims of truth and duty, and at every hazard. The terms on which the crucified Savior offers freely to save men are, that they shall forsake their sins, and submit themselves to his authority and grace. The salvation he offers, and which they may have by accepting, consists, in no small degree, in the deliverance it effects from the reigning power of sin; and, in rejecting the offer, what do they but practically justify all their former sins—no, repeat and glory in them, and virtually declare that, in defiance of all their knowledge of God’s will, they have no present purpose ever to perform what he requires, or to leave undone that which he forbids?
In estimating the wickedness of rejecting the cross, there is also to be taken into the account the persevering resistance which the unbeliever makes to all the calls and motives to repentance with which the gospel is so richly fraught. These are very many, very various, and unutterably strong and tender; they are fitted to try the strength of human wickedness, and when resisted, show how deep and desperate that wickedness and that resistance are. Human wickedness is always increased and aggravated by all the calls and motives to repentance, where those calls and motives are disregarded. And where are these motives multiplied, and where do they assume such urgency and tenderness, and overwhelming force, as from the cross? That rebuke and those terrors, that bondage of the curse and those forms of horror, that exclusion from the Divine favor, that abhorrence of the Holy God in this world, and that everlasting damnation in the world to come, which are the inheritance of all who reject the gospel—these are fearful motives indeed, but effective motives to all save those whom no motives will dissuade from their unbelief. That beauty of holiness and that deformity of sin which are there expressed, that all-sufficient atonement and those expiatory sufferings, that Savior and that mercy, that favor of heaven’s King restored, and his communion and presence—sins forgotten, and the wrathful curse removed, adoption into the Divine family, and an inheritance in the Divine kingdom—these form another class of moving considerations by which the cross appeals to the sinner’s heart. All this the unbeliever tramples under his feet. He either questions, or depreciates, or despises it all. Considerations like these, and other kindred motives, warmly urged and often-repeated, are everywhere inviting, urging, supplicating him to turn and live. But he is "stout-hearted, and far from righteousness." No precept controls, no penalty restrains him, no chains of darkness nor vials of wrath terrify him, and no lips of love, no arms of mercy allure and charm him. Nothing moves that reluctant, resisting heart; unbelief transforms it to adamant. It has an obstinacy which is unyielding and impenetrable, and which, if unmoved and unrepented of, the cross itself cannot rescue from a fearful retribution.
It is a thought also not to be overlooked, that unbelief involves the highest contempt of God. All sin is a virtual contempt of God. The convinced sinner feels this; and still more deeply does the true penitent feel it, and in bitterness of soul confesses, "Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight!" Those sins are emphatically most contemptuous, which are committed in full view of the Divine character, and claims, and glory. When the great facts and truths which the cross discloses are set before the mind, they bring God directly into view. God himself is the author of this wondrous redemption. Nowhere is he brought to the view of the mind so directly, and so distinctly; and in no view of him is it possible for the sinner to treat him with such indignity as by a deliberate and intelligent rejection of this method of mercy. Thus in rejecting the cross, the unbeliever says in his heart, "There is no God." As the cross is the highest expression of the Divine love, wisdom, justice, and power, so unbelief sets at nothing these affecting exhibitions of the Divine nature. There is no such demonstration of the enmity of the carnal mind against God as is made by the actings of unbelief. The glory of God shines "in the face of Jesus Christ." His cross is the highest expression of that glory. All things that are in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, principalities or powers, are but auxiliaries to this great work of redeeming mercy, and as the more retired features of that full portraiture of the Deity. The greatest honors and most exalted ascriptions of praise are paid to him for this redemption. Yet all this is set at nothing by the spirit of unbelief. This great work, for which all other works were made—this great design, which comprehends all other designs—this holiest and best purpose, itself the glory of the eternal Godhead—is opposed, obstructed, degraded and dishonored, wherever it is rejected. The wisdom and love of the Eternal Father are dishonored in the gift of his Son; and the amazing condescension, kindness and self-denial of the Son are dishonored in his mysterious incarnation and agonizing sufferings; nor is God the Spirit less dishonored in the testimony he bears to the truths and obligations of the gospel. The ever-blessed and adorable Trinity has no greater complaint against men, than that, after all the condescension and sufferings of the cross, men look upon the blood of the covenant as a common thing, and, because they think the Son of God unworthy of their confidence, and not fit to be entrusted with their salvation, crucify him openly, and put him to open shame. The whole weight of this combined authority and influence is thrown against the unbelief of men, and in favor of Christ and his salvation; yet unbelief resists it all, and in this resistance, trifles with the King eternal, immortal and invisible, casts contempt on Him who created, supports, and moves the universe—mocks, insults Him before whom angels bow and devils tremble.
There is another characteristic of unbelief which also exhibits its great wickedness—it is directed against the best interests of that kingdom of truth and holiness which Jesus Christ has established in this apostate world. The cross of Christ is fitted to make men holy and happy, and to diffuse and perpetuate the highest degree of holiness and happiness. The system of truth of which it is the great expression was revealed to men in order to secure this great and benevolent object. To reject it, is, therefore, virtually to oppose all the holiness and happiness it is adapted to secure. The unbeliever cannot perform an act which has a more constant tendency to annul the mediatorial work of the Son of God, frustrate his atonement, and rob him of his reward, than his own rejection of this great sacrifice. He is not only willing that others should reject it, but does all that his own constant example can effect to induce them to do so. It would be no grief of heart to him if all men should treat the Savior just as he treats him, and if every son and daughter of Adam should be as unholy in this world, and as miserable in the next, as he. If all the unbelief in the world could be embodied and personified in one man, it would be found, at heart, to have no better spirit than this. The malignity of sin, and especially the great malignity of the sin of unbelief, is very apt to be acted out in those seasons of mercy when God is in an unusual degree pouring out his Spirit, and bringing men in great numbers to repentance. When unbelievers see others pressing into the Divine kingdom, they are unhappy; their hearts rise against God, as well as against those who accept his mercy. If the truth were known, and the spirit which actuates them expressed, it would be seen that they desire all to enter into their views, sympathize with their feelings, and unite with them in their hostility to God and the gospel of his Son. When the great mass of men around them make light of the gospel, they are gratified; and on the other hand, when multitudes are arrested in their career, and bowing their heads before the cross, they are dissatisfied and unhappy. And is it too much to say that such people are enemies to the great interests of holiness and happiness in the world? I know it is a solemn and fearful thought to which I give utterance, but it is one which I may not suppress. Abstract from the bosom of such a man all those bland and social affections which fit him for a habitation among men—take off all the restraints of habit, education, self-respect, and preventing grace—and he will view the holiness and happiness of the Divine kingdom just as Satan views them, and feel toward them just as Satan feels. Such is the true spirit of the malignant sin of unbelief.
There is still another thought which illustrates the great wickedness of this sin. It is a sin against the soul. Men sometimes dream that they are their own proprietors, and have a right to throw away their souls, and rush upon eternal destruction. But the soul of man is the most precious deposit committed to his keeping. The benevolent Creator has stamped upon it a value beyond the power of numbers, or thought, to estimate. The merciful Savior has propounded the still unsolved problem, "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" But though born for immortality, the soul may perish, and, even from this early dawn of its being in this terrestrial world, sink to an abyss ten-fold deeper than eternal annihilation. There is one sin that kills it, and only one. Unbelief, incorrigible rejection of the cross of Christ, separates it from. God and holiness, and cuts it off from hope and heaven. This is one of the aggravations of this unnatural crime. It is cruel neglect of the soul—it is eternal suicide. It is nothing less than choosing to rebel against God, reject his Son, and be damned, rather than submit to God, receive his gospel, and be saved. It is the deliberate and persevering refusal of eternal life. Well has eternal wisdom declared, ‘I He that sins against me wrongs his own soul—all those who hate me love death."
Can the sin be harmless which makes a rational being so abandoned as to consent to be damned? What can be said of the sin that thus resists the light of truth, the power of motives, the authority of God—which thus trifles with the best interests of the Divine kingdom, and kills the soul—but that it is the sin of sins, infamous beyond infamy, and the strongest expression of human wickedness, even in all the maturity and strength of its moral corruption? Most men, if they avoid gross sins, if their history be not blackened with crime, have no serious compunctions of conscience, though, from the love of sinning, they reject the cross of Christ. But the time is coming when it will be seen to be a fearful crime to have lived and died a despiser of this great salvation. Sodom and Babylon, India and China, have no sin that can be compared with this rejection of a crucified Savior. "If I had not come among them," says the Savior of the Jews, "they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin." Proud and stubborn unbeliever! the eye that never slumbers is upon you as you wag your head, and pass contemptuously by his cross. Angels look with wonder to see you thus cast contempt upon their Sovereign Lord. And with what emotions of horror and self-indignation will you yourself, in some future period of your history, reflect on the wickedness of having closed your ears and hardened your heart against the claims of redeeming mercy! In the early part of my ministry, I became acquainted with a heathen youth, brought from the Sandwich Islands to this land, where, having dwelt but a few short years, he died in the triumphs of faith. God was pleased to open his eyes to his true character as a sinner, and he felt that he was lost. One day he was found sitting alone and in tears. On being asked why he wept, he replied, "Because I have been so long in this Christian land, and have not yet accepted Jesus Christ!" How will the dwellers in pagan lands who scarcely heard before they cheerfully accepted the gospel, rise up in judgment against the men of this generation, who have so long heard and rejected the only Savior! Oh, men are thoughtless beyond conception, they are stupid as the brutes that perish, and madness is in their hearts, who have no anxiety, no ingenuous misgivings, no inward and deep distress of soul, at the thought of having so long despised and rejected God’s only and well-beloved Son!
The consequence of this rejection of the cross is future and eternal death. "He that believes not shall be damned." Men who live under the gospel deserve to perish for not believing it. Revolving ages of suffering cannot exhaust their ill-desert. What is more in accordance with all true notions of justice and equity, than that, if you refuse the life he offers, God should give you the death you choose? Had you heard of Christ but once, you would have been without excuse for rejecting him. But you have heard so often that you are well-near weary of the message. The lips that have uttered it so often in your hearing will soon be silent, and dust will be upon them. God’s wearied patience, too, will soon have reached its last limit. As yet, his clemency waits, and, kind and melting as the love of Calvary, urges you to "repent, and believe the gospel."
Particular Baptist Reading Group:
The Attraction of the Cross Discussion Page:
Internet Archive Book Page:
The Internet Archive Page above includes a number of full versions of the book in a variety of file types including pdf, epub and Kindle.