Folly of Unbelief
August 28, 1887 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
“Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”Luke 24:25
The two disciples who walked to Emmaus and conversed together, and were sad, were true believers. We may not judge men by their occasional feelings. The possession of gladness is no clear evidence of grace; and the existence of depression is no sure sign of insincerity. The brightest eyes that look for heaven have sometimes been holden so that they could not see their heart’s true joy. Be not cast down, my brethren and sisters, if occasionally the tears of sadness bathe your cheeks. Jesus may be drawing near to you, and yet you may be troubled by mysteries of grief. The Lord Jesus Christ came to the two disciples, and took a walk of some seven miles with them to remove their sadness; for it is not the will of our Lord that his people should be cast down. The Saviour does himself that which he commanded the ancient prophet to do. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem.” Thus he spake and thus he acts. He was pleased when he went away to send us another Comforter, because he wishes us to abound in comfort; but that promise proves that he was, and is, himself a Comforter. Do not dream, when in sadness, that your Lord has deserted you; rather reckon that for this very reason he will come to you. As her babe’s cry quickens the mother’s footsteps to come to it more speedily, So shall your griefs hasten the visits of your Lord. He hears your groaning; he sees your tears are they not in his bottle? He will come to you as the God of all consolation. Observe that, when the Saviour did come to these mourning ones, he acted very wisely towards them. He did not at once begin by saying, “I know why you are sad.” No; he waited for them to speak, and in his patience drew forth from them the items and particulars of their trouble. You that deal with mourners, learn hence the way of wisdom. Do not talk too much yourselves. Let the swelling heart relieve itself. Jeremiah derives a measure of help from his own lamentations: even Job feels a little the better from pouring out his complaint. Those griefs which are silent run very deep, and drown the soul in misery. It is good to let sorrow have a tongue where sympathy hath an ear. Allow those who are seeking the Lord to tell you their difficulties: do not discourse much with them till they have done so. You will be the better able to deal with them, and they will be the better prepared to receive your words of cheer. Often, by facing the disease of sorrow the cure is half effected; for many doubts and fears vanish when described. Mystery gives a tooth to misery, and when that mystery is extracted by a clear description, the sharpness of the woe is over. Learn, then, ye who would be comforters, to let mourners hold forth their wound before you pour in the oil and wine. Learn also a sacred lesson, O ye mourners! It is well for you, when you are pouring out your griefs, that you do so before the Lord. These two troubled wayfarers, though they knew it not, were telling their sorrow to him who best of all could help them to bear it. You may tell your friends, if you will, and it will be some relief to you; but if you seek the throne of grace, and make the Redeemer your chief confidant, your relief will be sure. Get you alone; shut to the door; bow there apart from the disciples, and say, “Jesus, Master, I would tell thee that which saddens me! Thou great High Priest, who wast compassed with infirmities, thou wilt understand me better than my nearest friend, and I would place myself beneath thy care!” How great the privilege that we have access with boldness to the ear and heart of Jesus our Lord! Again, learn another point of wisdom. When our Lord had heard their statement of distress he might immediately have comforted them: a word would have done it. Did he not say “Mary,” and did she not at once turn and say, “Rabboni” with ecstatic delight? He went more wisely to work than to administer hurried consolation: he rather rebuked than encouraged them. He began by saying, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” Observe that I quote the Revised Version, for the Authorized is too harsh. Our Lord did not call them fools, but foolish persons. The difference is rather in the manner than in the sense. He chided them; gently, but still wisely. He let them know that their unbelief was blameworthy, and he called them foolish for indulging it. O beloved brother, if thy Master chide thee, do not doubt his love! If, when thou goest to him in grief, he answers thee roughly, it is his love scarcely disguised, which thus seeks thy truest welfare. If thou believe in thy Lord, thou wilt reply, “Master, say on.” If he call thee foolish, thou wilt wonder that he does not say something worse of thee; and in any case thou wilt trust him after the manner of Job when he said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Especially observe that our Saviour’s rebuke was aimed at their unbelief. Unbelief, which we so often excuse, and for which we almost claim pity, is not treated by our Lord as a trifle. It is for this that he calls them foolish; it is about this that he chides the slowness of their hearts. Do not let us readily excuse ourselves for mistrust of God. If we ever doubt our gracious Lord, let us feel ourselves to be verily guilty. Regard unbelief as a fault rather than a weakness. Brace yourselves to seek a braver and more constant faith than you have reached as yet. Why should we go on blundering, and misjudging, and therefore fretting when a little consideration will set us right, and at the same time cause us to honour our Lord, and to be ourselves filled with joy and peace through believing? I am going to handle this rebuke as God the Holy Spirit shall help me; first addressing it to the true believer, and secondly, to the seeker. I shall have to bring forth some bitter things which will act as a tonic, but by giving tone to your system, they will, in the end, remove your fears better than sweeter matters would have done. Hear then our Lord say, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!”
In speaking to believers, I would have them observe that our Lord rebuked their unbelief under two heads: first, as being folly, and secondly, as arising from slowness of heart. First, then, UNBELIEF IS FOLLY. Not to believe all that the prophets have spoken, and not to draw comfort out of it, is great folly. Folly! Note the word. “O fools! O foolish men!” It is folly such as makes the tender Jesus cry out. It is folly because it arises from want of thought and consideration. Not to think is folly. To give way to sadness, when a little thought would prevent it, is foolishness. Is it not? If these two disciples had sat down and said, “Now the prophets have said concerning the Messiahs that he shall be led as a lamb to the slaughter, and thus was it with our Master,” they would have been confirmed in their confidence that Jesus was the Messiah. If they had said, “The prophet David wrote, ‘They pierced my hands and my feet,'” they would have recognized in this their crucified Lord. And if then they had turned to the other passages of the prophets in which they speak of Messiah’s future glory, they would have been refreshed with hope. In the Scriptures they would have found types, and figures, and plain words, in which the death and the rising again, the shame and the glory of Christ are linked together, and his cross is made the road to his throne. Had they compared the testimony of the holy women with the prophecies of the Old Testament, they would have obtained ground of hope. The women reported that the body was no longer in the tomb, and that they had seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive; two apostles went to the sepulchre, and gave in a like report; and this tallied with the Lord’s own words, in which he made Jonah his type, because he came up from the deep on the third day. But they forgot the Scriptures; they did not think of that great source of hope. Their eyes were dimmed with tears, so that they did not see what was plain before them. How many a precious text have you and I read again and again without perceiving its joyful meaning, because our minds have been clouded with despondency! We take the telescope, and try to look into heavenly things, and we breathe upon the glass with the hot breath of our anxiety till we cannot see anything; and then we conclude that there is nothing to be seen. Do you not think, beloved, you that are depressed and sorrowing to-day, that if you thought more of the promises revealed in God’s Word, you would soon see things differently, and would rise out of your downcast condition? You put your Bibles away, and read nothing but the roll of your troubles. There are no handkerchiefs for the tears of saints like those which are folded up within the golden box of God’s Word. He who inspired this volume is “The Comforter”; will you not apply to him in your dark hours? O you, whose melancholy arises from forgetfulness of the words of your heavenly Father, of the tender Saviour, and of the divine Spirit, I beseech you be more considerate! Think of God’s providence, his unchanging love, his power, his faithfulness, his mercy. Think of the promises, and as you handle them by thought, they will exhale a sweet perfume which will delight you. Holy thought will charm you out of your griefs. But what folly it is that, for want of thought, we should bow our heads like the bulrush, when, like the sunflower, we might look at the light till we became little suns ourselves! Unbelief is folly because it is inconsistent with our own professions. The two disciples professed that they believed in the prophets; and I have no doubt that they did do so. They were devout Jews who accepted the Holy Books as divinely inspired, and therefore infallible; and yet now they were acting as if they did not believe in the prophets at all. Are we not often found guilty of like inconsistency? O brethren, it is one thing to say, “I believe the Bible,” but it is quite another thing to act upon that belief! We have more of seeming faith than of real faith. That Book is true, and every promise in it is true, and I know and believe that it is so; and yet, when I come to the test, how much of faith evaporates, and how sadly my fluttering heart proves that my belief was more in fancy than in fact! There is more infidelity in the best believer than he dreams of. We think we believe in the gross; and yet, when it comes to the detail, and we have to deal with this promise and with that as a matter of fact in every-day life, we have to light a candle, and sweep the house, to find our faith. What folly this is! If the Word of the Lord be true, it is true, and we ought to act upon it; if it be not true, why do we profess to believe it? That which is unquestionably true will bear all the strain and pressure which life and its trials may put upon it, and it is for us to act upon this belief. Brethren, it ill becomes us to play at believing; let us have our wits about us, and make serious business of that which is not sent to delude us, but soundly to instruct us. The Word of the Lord is in harmony with his providence; and as we believe him as to the one, we must trust him as to the other. We may safely rest the weight of our body and soul, our present and future, upon the sure promise of a faithful God; and we are bound by our profession to do so. It is folly to call ourselves believers in the Bible, and then to doubt and distrust. Folly, again, is clearly seen in unbelieving sadness, because the evidence which should cheer us is so clear. In the case of the brethren going to Emmaus they had solid ground for hope. They speak, to my mind, a little cavalierly of the holy women as “certain women.” Yet there were no better disciples in the world than those women. They were surely the best of the chosen company Mary and the Magdalene. Even the testimonies of Peter and John, the very chief of the apostles, are not sufficiently valued, for they speak of “certain of them which were with us.” I say not they speak disrespectfully; but there is a slurring of their witness by casting a doubt upon it. Concerning these godly women they leave an impression on my mind as if they had said, “Women will talk, and these women said that they had seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive.” It is rehearsed as hearsay of a hearsay: they said that they had seen those who had said. If they had been pushed to the point, the two disciples would not have allowed that the Magdalene and the other women, or Peter, or John, were unworthy of credence; and yet they were by their sadness acting as if the witnesses were mistaken. If those who were at the empty sepulchre were to be believed, why did they doubt? The evidence which they themselves detail, though we have it only in brief in this place, was conclusive evidence that Christ had left the tomb; and yet they doubted it. Now, dear friends, you and I have had superabundant evidence of the faithfulness of God, and if we are unbelieving, we are unreasonable and foolish. At least, I stand here to confess that whenever I doubt my God it is on my part a superfluity of naughtiness. I have never had any reason to distrust him. These many years that I have trusted in him he has never failed me once. Experienced Christians, how can you waver in your confidence? If we disbelieve, is it not folly? If the Saviour does not call us fools, we are forced to call ourselves so. We could not suppose that the promise, covenant, and oath of God could fail. The supposition cannot be tolerated for an instant. Thousands of souls are resting everything upon the faithfulness of God, and desire no other security; but if God be unfaithful, what will become of them? If the foundations be removed, what can the righteous do? Then they that have fallen asleep in Christ have perished; or, even if they be in heaven, what security have they there, if God can change? I feel quite safe on board the ship of the covenant, for all the saints are floating in this one vessel. If God fails, then we all fail together, and there is an end of faith, and hope, and all things. Wherefore, let us not be so foolish as to sin against the light of clear truth. Let us believe what we have known, and tasted, and handled. Let past experience anchor us firmly as to future circumstances. Unbelief is folly, because it very often arises out of our being in such a hurry. They said, “Beside all this, this is the third day.” I know that they had expected great things on that third day, and were justified in expecting them; but still, the day was not yet over, and they were in as great a fever as if it was past a month ago. Although the Saviour had said that he would rise on the third day, he had not said that he would appear to them all on the third day. He told them to go into Galilee, and there they should see him; but that meeting had not yet come. “He that believeth shall not make haste;” but they that do not believe are always restless. Well is it written, “Ye have need of patience.” God’s promises will be kept to the moment, but they will not all be fulfilled to-day. Divine promises are some of them bills which are payable so many days after sight; and because they are not paid at sight we doubt whether they are good bills. Is this reasonable? Are we not foolish to doubt the sure handwriting of a God that cannot lie? Because the Lord has not carried out your interpretation of his promise in the way of your own dictation, therefore you question his truthfulness! If the vision tarry, wilt thou not wait for it? It will come in its own appointed time, wouldst thou have it hurried on for thee? What next? Shall the sun and moon be quickened in their pace to suit thy rashness? Must God himself alter his purposes at thy bidding? Truly, things have come to a pretty pass! Art thou man or God? If thou be a man, wait God’s time, and in thy patience possess thy soul. If thou do not, but, like a fretful child, must have everything now, or else cry and fight, thou deserves the rod, and well may the Lord say to thee, “O foolish one!” Yet, again, I think we may well be accused of folly whenever we doubt, because we make ourselves suffer needlessly. There are enough bitter wells in this wilderness without our digging more. There are enough real causes of sorrow without our inventing imaginary ones. I believe that the sharpest griefs in the world are those that men make for themselves. No asp ever stung Cleopatra so terribly as that which she held to her breast herself. Certain of our friends spend all their days in stitching away to make themselves garments of sackcloth. I have seen the cobbler with his lap-stone cobbling up a trouble, and he has done his work so well that the shoe has pinched his foot for many a day. It seems a pity, does it not? Yet, brethren and sisters, we have those about us who are great adepts at self-worrying. When you were boys, I do not suppose you ever went into the woods to find a stick for your father to beat you with; but you have done so again and again since you have been men; and the more is the pity that you should be so foolish. If these two travellers had considered and believed, they would have known that Christ was risen from the dead; and as they walked along to Emmaus, if indeed they had ever taken that walk at all, their faces would have brightened at the prospect of soon seeing him they loved so well. I want you to notice yet further that it was folly, but it was nothing more. I feel so thankful to our Lord for using that word. Though we ought to condemn our own unbelief with all our hearts, yet our Saviour is full of tenderness, and so freely forgives, that he looks upon our fault as folly, and not as wilful wickedness. He does not take our doubt as an affront, but he calls it folly. He knows that it is true of his children, as it is of ours, that folly is bound up in the heart of a child. He puts that down to childish folly which he might have called by a harsher name. I am sure that any dear, obedient child will feel thankful if his father calls his fault by the lighter name of folly, because it will prove that he loves him, and will endeavour to teach him better. It was not wicked rebellion; there was no enmity in it. They loved their Lord, though they feared he had not risen from the dead. I do not want you to draw undue comfort from this gentle word, but yet I would have you lose none of the cheer it is meant to convey. You that are vexed at your own doubts are not to come to the conclusion that the Lord utterly rejects you. He discriminates between the folly of a child and the wickedness of a rebel: he knows what is in your heart, and knows that you are his. You are like a ship that is well anchored, and though the tide is rushing in, and makes your vessel roll from side to side, so that you yourself stagger, yet the vessel is not loosed from its moorings, neither are you in any danger. Your faith is fixed on Christ, and this anchor holds you; though you are tossed about a little, you will suffer no shipwreck because of sin, but much sea-sickness because of folly. So much concerning unbelieving sadness as folly. In the second place, our Lord rebuked them for SLOWNESS OF HEART TO BELIEVE. This is an evil greatly to be fought against, but it is by no means a rare sin among the people of God. Let me try and bring home the charge made by our Lord against the two disciples, since I fear it applies to us as much as to them. Our hearts are full often sluggish in believing; at least, mine is so, and I suppose we are much alike. First, we are slow in heart to believe our God, for we are much more ready to believe others than to believe him. I am often amazed with the credulity of good people whom I had credited with more sense. Credulity towards man and incredulity towards God are singular things to find in the same person. We cannot help seeing in the daily papers how easily people are duped. Get up a prospectus, and a list of names as directors, including a titled pauper, and you can bring in money by waggon-loads. The confidence trick can still be successfully performed. One impostor lived for months by calling at the door of guileless old people in almshouses, and telling them that a cousin in America had died, and left them a fortune, but it was essential that fees should be paid at the government offices, and then the legacy would at once be handed over. Times and times the money has been scraped together, the rogue has gone his way, and no more has been heard of the cousin in America. There are so many simpletons about that rogues reap harvests all the months of the year. And yet the God of truth is doubted! Yet the incorruptible Word is mistrusted! This makes our slowness of heart in believing God all the more sad a sign of our inward depravity of nature. We can believe, for we believe in man. In the course of our lives we are fools enough to believe in men to our cost; in fact, it is not easy to rise out of this snare: and yet we are slow at heart to believe our God. Oh, my brethren, can we excuse ourselves? The Lord forgive and cleanse us! Let us henceforth accept every syllable of God’s Word as infallible, while we turn our unbelief towards man and his philosophies and infidelities! Is it not clear that we are slow of heart to believe, since we judge this of others when they are mistrustful? When we see our brethren in trial desponding and distrusting, we are very apt to think them needlessly dull, and sinfully slow to grasp the promise; and yet, if we come into the like case, we are by no means better than they. That which we censure we commit. The beam is in our own eye as well as the mote in our brother’s eye. You have come home from visiting a friend who was distressed at heart, and you have said, “I cannot make her out, I have put the promises before her, but she is so foolish that she refuses to be comforted.” Yes, and from this learn what you may be! Within a month’s time, you may be sinking in the same mire. An evil heart of unbelief is to be found in many a breast where its existence is least suspected. But if we see the folly of others, will we not confess our own? Dare we commit what we condemn? Did you ever say of Job, “It was a pity that after all his patience, he spoke so bitterly, and cursed the day of his birth”? I wonder how many of us would have been any better than Job. I dare not hope that I should have been worthy to unloose the ratchets of his shoes. If I had been bereaved as he was, and tortured with like burning boils, and, worst of all, irritated by critics with their cruel candour and malignant sympathy, could not have behaved so grandly as he did. Let us not severely judge others. They ought to believe, of course; they ought to be more cheerful; they ought not to let their burdens crush them so completely: but when we also are tempted shall we be so very much superior? I fear not. Let us see ourselves in the weakness of our brethren, and confess that the Saviour’s words are true: we are “slow of heart to believe.” There is another point in which we are very slow of heart to believe, namely, that we do believe, and yet do not believe. We must be very slow of heart when we say “Yes, I believe that promise,” and yet we do not expect it to be fulfilled. We are quick of mind to believe mentally, but we are slow of heart to believe practically. The very heart of our believing is slow. Our dear friend, Mr. George Muller, whom may God long preserve, says that one of his objects in journeying about, at his advanced age, from church to church, is to try and lead God’s people to real faith in the promises of God. He says, “As for fifty-seven years I have seen how very little real trust in the living God there is (generally speaking), even amongst true Christians, I have sought, in these my missionary tours particularly, to strengthen their faith; because, in the course of my pastoral labours, the blessed results of real confidence in God on the one hand have come to my knowledge, and the misery of distrusting him on the other.” Mr. Muller’s object is a very desirable one; but what fools we must be that this should be necessary! There are plenty of people who believe God after a superfine kind of fashion up there on the edge of the moon, or “at the back of the north wind”; but they do not believe the Lord in their shops, and on their beds, and in their kitchens: they cannot believe as to bread, and cheese, and house-rent, and raiment. They talk about believing in the Lord for eternity, but for this day and next week they are full of fear. True faith is every-day faith. The faith of the patriarchs was a faith which dwelt in tents, and fed sheep. We want a faith which will endure the wear and tear of life a practical, realizing faith, which trusts in God from hour to hour. Oh, to be delivered from shams, and windbags, and to believe God as a woman believes her husband, or a child believes its father! I hear of writers of “the realistic school”: we want believers of the realistic order. We need faith in which there are backbone and grit. We are sham believers, and so we lead sham lives. The promises of God speak to us as Jesus spake to his disciples when he rose from the dead: each one cries “Handle me, and see.” God’s words are not chaff, but wheat; not wind, but bread. We are slow of heart because, while we think we are believing all that God saith to us, it often turns out that our believing is all a puff. These two disciples must have been slow of heart to believe, again, because they had enjoyed so much excellent teaching, and they ought to have been solid believers. They had been for years with Jesus Christ himself as a tutor, and yet they had not learned the elements of simple faith. “Oh,” say you, “they were very slow!” Are not you the same? How many years have you been with Jesus? Perhaps for even thirty years. He has himself taught you, has he not? Let me remind some of you of the remarkable events of your lives. What wonderful providences you have seen! What singular deliverances you have experienced! What divine upholdings you have enjoyed! what heavenly consolations you have received! If you doubt the Saviour, you may well be called “slow of heart to believe.” After what you have experienced, my brother, the shadow of a doubt should never fall upon you! Have you not said many times, in the flush of your gratitude for some signal favour, “There, I can never doubt my Lord again”? You were foolish when you made that boastful observation; but you are more foolish still for running back from it. You have passed through the Red Sea, and with your timbrel in your hand you have sung unto the Lord; and yet, perhaps, after a short march, you have tasted the bitter waters of Marah, and opened your mouth in murmuring. God only is wise, and we are fools. He alone hath understanding, and we are “slow of heart.” Once more, these two disciples were very slow of heart to believe, because there is so much in the Word which ought to have convinced them. See how the Saviour puts it “Slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” What a mighty “all” that is! Brethren, are you half aware of the treasure hidden in the field of Scripture? Are you as familiar with your Bibles as you should be? If so, you will join with me in speaking of Scripture as having almost a redundant of confirmatory testimony. There is rock enough here for us to build upon. We have here, not only precept upon precept, but promise upon promise, and all these confirmed by pledge, and oath, and covenant of the Lord God Almighty. The teaching of Scripture is so full, so varied, so convincing, that we are, indeed, slow of heart if our faith is not firm and immovable. Brethren, a want of familiarity with the Word of God is very often the seed-plot of our doubts! Half our fears arise from neglect of the Bible. Our spirits sink for want of the heavenly food stored up in the inspired Volume. God forbid that you should fly to light literature to give your mind a fillip! Go to the solid literature of the promises, and be established with food more suitable for an immortal soul. Like Luther, say, “Come, let us sing a psalm, and drive away the devil.” There is no enchantment for the casting out of evil spirits like a resort to the divine Word. When you see more of what God has revealed, you will rise out of your doubts and fears, and your slowness of heart to believe will depart from you. Before I leave this point, I beg you to notice that the Saviour does not say that they were “hard of heart,” but “slow of heart.” I like to notice that. When he is most severe, he is still tenderly discriminating. “Slow of heart” we are, but there is no enmity in our heart towards him. It is slowness, and that is bad enough, but our Lord graciously helps our pace. Our face is in the right direction, and our feet are going the right way; but we are slow in heart, and lame in faith. As David spared Mephibosheth, and admitted him to his table, though lame in both his feet, so the Lord loves us, and communes with us, slow of heart though we are. It is bad to have a slow heart, very bad; but it would be much worse to have an unrenewed heart. With all our doubts and fears, we have no longer a heart of stone, but we have a heart of flesh, which mourns because of its sinful unbelief. The Lord knows the difference between the sin of hating the truth and the folly of doubting it. Strive against this slowness of heart, but still let not Satan come in as an accuser, and condemn you as though you were not a child of God at all. So there I leave it. There is the Master’s gentle rebuke not meant to discourage you, but to encourage you. He calls you foolish in order that you may be so no longer. Believe, and this shall be your wisdom.
Will the Lord’s people kindly pray for me while I now speak to the unconverted? Ask that I may have God-speed while I try and speak to those who are seeking the Lord, and have not yet believed in him. I want to say to them just this: “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe!” Some of you are really seeking the Lord, but you say that you cannot believe, though you long to believe. You are not like the spider, whose motto is, “I get everything out of myself.” You do not hope to spin salvation out of your own bowels, but you own that salvation must be through faith in Christ. So far so good: but how is it that you do not at once believe? You say you cannot. How is it that you cannot believe in Jesus? He commands you to believe in him, and promises that you shall be saved. Trust him, and you shall live as surely as his Word is true. Listen! This unbelief proves you to be foolish, and slow of heart, for there are other parts of his Word which you easily believe. If there is a threatening or a condemnation, you believe it. If there is a text that speaks of judgment to come, you believe it. You have a quick eye for anything which reads hard and looks dismal. Have I not seen you reading the Word, and stopping at a passage, and saying, “Alas! this makes my case hopeless. I have sinned the sin that is unto death”? You believe in more than God has said, for you read your own thoughts into God’s Word, and make it say more than it means. You are ready enough to take in the hard things, but the gracious promises of the loving Christ you will not believe. How can you justify this? How foolish you are! The promises are in the same Book as the threatenings, and if you believe the one, believe the other. Certainly, the cheering words come from the same inspiration as the depressing ones: if you believe that which looks dark, believe that which looks bright. Next, you are very foolish, because your objections against believing are altogether poor and puerile. I should think I have heard hundreds of them in my time, but out of all the objections raised by troubled souls against believing in Jesus, there is not one worthy of serious discussion. One man cannot believe in Jesus because he does not feel humble enough; as if that affected Christ’s power to save. If he felt more humbled, then he could believe in Jesus. Would not that be just believing in himself, and trusting in his own humility instead of trusting in Christ? One man cannot believe in Christ because he is not like a certain great saint. Does he expect that he is to be like a great saint when he first comes to Christ? Has not Christ come to save sinners? Another says he cannot believe because he has not felt the terrors of the law and the dread of hell. Does he think that his terrors are to save him? Would his dreads and horrors help Christ to save him? Would he not be trusting his terrors, and not Christ? The Lord Jesus says, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” The gospel is to be preached to every creature, and every creature that believes it shall be saved: but these people back out of it, and begin hammering out reasons for their own destruction. A sadly suicidal business this! Let the devil invent reasons for my not being saved: it is not a business which can bring me any form of good. Nothing can stand against the promise of God: he commands me to believe on his Son Jesus, and I do believe, and I am saved, and shall be saved, despite all the objections which may be raised by carnal reason. Though you find it so hard to believe Christ, you have found it very easy to believe in yourself. Not long ago you were everybody, and now you cannot believe that Christ is everybody. You thought you were very good; you were wonderfully easy in your own mind when you ought to have been afraid. What! Was it easy to believe your poor self, and can you not believe the faithful word of a good and gracious Saviour who says that if you trust him you shall be saved? Moreover, you are very apt now to believe Satan if he comes and says that the Bible is not true, or that Jesus will not accept you, or that you have sinned beyond hope, or that the grace of God cannot save you. Of course, you believe the father of lies, and you go mourning and moping, when you might at once go singing and dancing if you would believe your Saviour. Jesus bids you trust and live, and Satan says it is of no use your trusting; you believe Satan, and treat your Lord as if he had intended to deceive you. “O fools, and slow of heart!” Then you know how ready you are, you seekers, to stop short of Christ. If you hear a sermon and get a little melted, and go home and pray a bit, you get quite easy and say, “Now I am on the road.” Why, your melting and your praying are not the road to heaven: Jesus says, “I am the way.” You are not on the way till you get to him. You have been in gracious company, and singing holy hymns; you feel quite good, and are highly pleased with yourselves. What right have you to be restful even for a moment? How dare you linger till you have reached the city of refuge, which is Jesus Christ? Till you believe in Christ you have no right to a single moment’s peace, or hope, or joy; and yet you do get a sort of peace and a kind of hope, which are only sparks of your own kindling which will die out in blackness. Because you are content to trust in something short of Christ, I say to you Why not rest in Jesus? O fools, and slow of heart! Refuges of lies you fly to, but the true refuge of the finished work of Jesus Christ you do not accept? Why is this? And then some of you are foolish and slow of heart because you make such foolish demands upon God. You would believe if you could hear a voice, if you could dream a dream, if some strange thing were to happen in your family. What! Is God to be tied to your fancies, that you will not believe him unless he does this and that extravagant thing? If he chooses to bring some to himself by extraordinary means, must he do the same with you, or else you prefer to be cast into hell? Surely you are mad. Who are you that you are to dictate to the Lord, and say he shall do this, or that, or else you will refuse to believe him? And so you will trample on the blood of Jesus, and turn our back upon the kingdom of heaven, unless an angel is sent to you, or you hear a voice from heaven! O fools, and slow of heart, to make these irrational demands upon the ever-blessed God! You are foolish and slow of heart because, to a great extent, you ignore the Word of God and its suitability to your case. If a soul in distress will take down the Bible, and turn it over, he need not look long before he will light upon a passage which describes himself as the object of mercy. “The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick; I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Does not that fit you? “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Does not that fit you? “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Does not that apply to you? Why, if you will but look through the Word, you shall find passages so pertinent to your condition that, as a key fits a lock, they will seem made for you! Those two disciples did not, for a while, see how the prophets met the case of the crucified and risen Christ; but as they did see it, their hearts burned within them. As you also see how God has provided for your condition in his Word, in his covenant, in his Son, your sadness will flee away. I close with this one word of warning to those of you who are distressed in heart, and are falling into the habit of looking for reasons why you should not believe in Christ. I do pray you to leave off this silly practice. Before this evil becomes chronic with you, quit it as a deadly thing. People can reason themselves down, but they cannot reason themselves up again. If thou seest a door open, in God’s name hasten in, for one of these days thou mayest be so blind as never to see an open door again. Seize this opportunity, and while Christ stands and says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” come along with you. If you sit down to argue against Christ, he may allow your conclusions to stand to your own destruction. Those who are so foolish as to find twenty unhallowed reasons to-day will be foolish enough to find two hundred such reasons next year. A man may act the cripple till he grows hopelessly lame. Mind what you are at. You may lock a door, and open it again for many a year; but one of these days you may so hamper the lock that it will not open again. Oh, that you may at once believe in Jesus Christ unto eternal life! I have come to this pass myself if I perish, I will perish believing in Jesus. If I must be lost, I will be lost clinging to his cross. Can any man be lost there? No, “fools and slow of heart “though we may be, we know that none shall perish who come to Christ, for that would greatly dishonour the Saviour’s name. God bless you! Amen.
The Wounds of Jesus
January 30th, 1859 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
“He shewed them his hands and his feet.”Luke 24:40
I have selected this sentence as the text, although I shall not strictly adhere to it. What was to be seen on Christ’s hands and feet? We are taught that the prints of the nails were visible, and that in his side there was still the gash of the spear. For did he not say to Thomas? “Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless, but believing.” I wish to draw your attention to the ample fact, that our Lord Jesus Christ, when he rose again from the dead had in his body the marks of his passion. If he had pleased he could readily have removed them. He rose again from the dead, and he might have erased from his body everything which could be an indication of what he had suffered and endured before be descended into the tomb. But, no! Instead thereof, there were the pierced hands and feet, and there was the open side. What was the reason for this? There was no absolute necessity for it: it could easily have been dispensed with, What, then, were the reasons? I shall endeavour to enter into this subject, and I hope we may draw some profitable instructions therefrom. First, what influence did the exhibition of the hands and feet have upon the disciples? Secondly, why is it that Jesus Christ, now in heaven, bears with him the scars in his flesh? And, then, thirdly, is there any lesson to us in the fact that Jesus Christ still wears his wounds? I think there is. I. First, then, OF WHAT USE WAS THE EXHIBITION OF THOSE WOUNDS TO THE DISCIPLES? I reply at once that they were infallible proofs that he was the same person. He said, “Behold my hands and feet, that it is, I, myself.” It was to establish his identity, that he was the very same Jesus whom they had followed, whom at last they had deserted, whom they had beheld afar off crucified and slain, and whom they had carried to the tomb in the gloom of the evening; it was the very same Christ who was now before them, and they might know it, for there was the seal of his sufferings upon him. He was the same person; the hands and feet could testify to that. You know, beloved, had not some such evidence been visible upon our Saviour, it is probable that his disciples would have been unbelieving enough to doubt the identity of his person. Have you never seen men changed, extremely changed in their external appearance. I have known a man, perhaps, five or six years ago; he has passed through a world of suffering and pain, and when I hare seen him again, l have declared, “I should not have known you if I had met you in the street.” Now, when the disciples parted with Jesus it was at the Lord’s Supper. They then walked with him into the garden. There did the Saviour sweat, “as it were great drops of blood.” Do you not imagine that such a wrestling, such a bloody sweat as that, must have had some effect upon his visage. It had surely had enough to mar it before. But now the ploughshares of grief were sharpened, and anguish made deep furrows upon him. There must have been lines of grief upon his brow, deeper than they had ever seen before. This would have produced a change great enough to make them forget his countenance. Nor was this all. You know he had to undergo the flagellation at the pillar of the Praetorium, and then to die. Can you imagine that a man could pass through the process of death, through such astonishing agony as that which the Saviour endured, and yet that there should be no change in his visible appearance? I can conceive that in passing through such a furnace as this, the very lineaments of Christ’s face would seem to have been melted, and would have need to be restruck ere the disciples could discern that he was the same. Besides that? when Jesus rose, he rose, you know, as he now sits in heaven. His body was flesh and bone, but, nevertheless, it had miraculous powers; it was capable of entering into a room without the ordinary modes of access. We find our Saviour standing in the midst of his disciples, the doors being shut. I believe that Jesus had a body such as we are to have in the next world. Jesus Christ was not a phantom or spectra. His body was not a spirit; it was a real body. And so in heaven imagine not that we are to be spirits. We are to be spirits until the great resurrection day; but, then, our spirit is afterwards to receive a spiritual body; it is to be clothed upon; it is not for ever to be a naked, bodiless spirit. That body will be to all intents and purposes the same body which shall be laid in the tomb. It is sown in dishonour, and the same it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness, and the same it is raised in power. Mark, Jesus was flesh still! All flesh is not the same flesh: all bodies have not the same qualities. So our Saviour’s flesh was flesh that could not suffer, flesh that had extraordinary powers about it, flesh however, that could eat, although it was under no necessity to do so. And such may be the body, the glorified body, which shall be given to us when we shall rise at the first resurrection, and shall be made like unto our head. But, now, think! If Christ had to undergo in his countenance those matchless transformations, that must have been, first of all, connected with his bloody sweat, then, with his agony, and after that, with the transforming, or, if I may use such a word, the transmutation of his body into a spiritual body, can you not conceive that his likeness would be changed, that the disciples would scarcely know him if there had not been some deeply graven marks whereby they would be able to discover him? The disciples looked upon the very face, but, even then they doubted. There was a majesty about him which most of them had not seen. Peter, James, and John, had seen him transfigured, when his garments were whiter than any fuller could make them; but the rest of the disciples had only seen him as a man of sorrows; they had not seen him as the glorious Lord, and, therefore, they would be apt to doubt whether he was the same. But these nail-prints, this pierced side, these were marks which they could not dispute, which unbelief itself could not doubt. And they all were convinced and confessed that he was the Lord; and even faithless Thomas, was constrained to cry, ” My Lord and my God!” II. Let us turn to tile second question: Why SHOULD CHRIST WEAR THESE WOUNDS IN HEAVEN AND OF WHAT AVAIL ARE THEY? Let me give you some thoughts upon the matter. I can conceive, first, that the wounds of Christ in heaven will be a theme of eternal wonder to the angels. An old writer represents the angels as saying, “Oh, Lord of glory, what are these wounds in thy hand?” They had seen him depart from heaven, and they had gone with him as far as they might go, singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth.'” Some of them had watched him through his pilgrimage, for “he was seen of angels.” But when he returned, I doubt not that they crowded round him, bowed before him in adoration, and then put the holy question, “What are these wounds in thy hand?” At any rate they were enabled to behold for themselves in heaven the man who suffered, and they could see the wounds which were produced in his body by his sufferings; and I can readily imagine that this would cause them to lift their songs higher, would prolong their shouts of triumph, and would cause them to adore him with a rapture of wonderment, such as they had never felt before. And I doubt not that every time they look upon his hands, and behold the crucified man exalted by his Father’s side, they are afresh wrapt in wonder, and again they strike their harps with more joyous lingers at the thought of what be must have suffered who thus bears the sears of his hard-fought battles. Again, Christ wears these sears in his body in heaven as his ornaments. The wounds of Christ are his glories, they are his jewels and his precious things. To the eye of the believer Christ is never so glorious, never so passing fair, as when we can say of him, “My beloved is white and ruddy,” white with innocence, and ruddy with his own blood. He never seems so beautiful a’ when he can see him as the rose and the lily; as the lily, matchless purity, and as the rose, crimsoned with his own gore. We may talk of Christ in his beauty, in divers places raising the dead and stilling the tempest, but oh! there never was such a matchless Christ as he that did hang upon the cross. There I behold all his beauties, all his attributes developed, all his love drawn out, all his character expressed in letters so legible, that even my poor stammering heart call read those lines and speak them out again, as I see them written in crimson upon the bloody tree. Beloved, these are to Jesus what they are to us; they are his ornaments, his royal jewels, his fair array. He does not care for the splendour and pomp of kings. The thorny crown is his diadem a diadem such as no monarch ever wore. It is true that he bears not now the sceptre of reed, but there is a glory in it that there never flashed from sceptre of gold. It is true he is not now buffeted and spit upon: his face is not now marred more than that of any other man by grief and sorrow, for he is glorified and full of blessedness; but he never seems so lovely as when we see him buffeted of men for our sakes, enduring all manner of grief, bearing our iniquities, and carrying our sorrows. Jesus Christ finds such beauties in his wounds that he win not renounce them, he will wear the court dress in which he wooed our souls, and he will wear the royal purple of his atonement throughout eternity. Nor are these only the ornaments of Christ: they are his trophies the trophies of his love. Have you never seen a soldier with a gash across his forehead or in his cheek? Why every soldier will tell you the wound in battle is no disfigurement it is his honour. “If” said he, “I received a wound when I was retreating, a wound in the back, that were to my disgrace, If I have received a wound in a victory, then it is an honourable thing to be wounded.” Now, Jesus Christ has scars of honour in his flesh and glory in his eyes He has other trophies He has divided the spoil with the strong: he has taken the captive away from his tyrant master; he has redeemed for himself a host that no man can number, who are all the trophies of his victories: but these scars, these are the memorials of the fight, and these the trophies, too. For do you not know it was from the side of Jesus that Death sucked its death. Jesus did hang upon the cross, and Death thought to get the victory. Aye, but in its victory it destroyed itself. There are three things in Christ that Death never met with before, all of which are fatal to it. There was in Christ innocence. Now; as long as man was innocent, he could not die. Adam lived as long as he was innocent. Now Christ was about to die; but Death sucked in innocent blood; he sucked in his own poison and he died. Again, blessedness is that which takes away the sting of death. Now Christ, even when he was dying, was “God over all, blessed for ever.” All that Death had ever killed before was under the curse; but this man was never by nature under the curse, because for our sakes he was not born into this world a cursed man. He was the seed of woman it is true, but still not of carnal generation. He did come under the curse when he took upon himself our sins, but not for his own sins. He was in himself blessed. Death sucked in blessed blood: he had never done that before all others have been under the curse and that slew Death. It was innocence combined with blessedness that was the destruction of Death. Yet another thing. Death had never met before with any man who had life in himself. But when Death drank Christ’s blood it drank life. For his blood is the life of the soul, and is the seed of life eternal. Wheresoever it goeth, doth it not give life to the dead? And Death, finding that it had drunk into its own veins life in the form of Jesus’ blood gave up the ghost; and Death itself is dead, for Christ hath destroyed it, by the sacrifice of himself; he hath put it away; he hath said, “Oh death, where is thy sting? oh grave, where is thy victory?” But now, since it was from these very wounds that Death sucked in its own death, and that hell was destroyed; since these were the only weapons of a weaponless Redeemer, he wears and bears them as his trophies in heaven. David laid up Goliath’s sword before the Lord for ever. Jesus lays up his wounds before the Lord, for his wounds were his weapons, and this is why he wears them still. I was thinking while coming here of Jesus Christ in heaven with his wounds, and another thought struck me. Another reason why Jesus wears his wounds is, that when he intercedes he may employ them as powerful advocates. When he rises up to pray for his people, he needs not speak a word; he lifts his hands before his Father’s face; he makes bare his side, and points to his feet. These are the orators with which he pleads with God these wounds. Oh, he must prevail. Do you not see that Christ without his wounds, in heaven might be potent enough. but there would not be that glorious simplicity of intercession which now you see. He has nothing to do but to shew his hands. Him the Father heareth always. His blood crieth and is heard, His wounds plead and prevail. Let us think again. Jesus Christ appears in heaven as the wounded one, this shews again that he has not laid aside his priesthood. You know how Watts paraphrases the idea He says,
“Looks like a lamb that has been slain, And wears his priesthood still.”
If the wounds had been removed we might have forgotten that there was a sacrifice; and, mayhap, next we might have forgotten that there was a priest. But the wounds are there: then there is a sacrifice, and there is a priest also, for he who is wounded is both himself, the sacrifice and the priest. The priesthood of Melchisedec is a glorious subject. He who reads that with the eye of faith, and is blessed with the Spirit, will find much cause for joy when he contrasts the priesthood of Christ with that of Aaron. The priesthood of Aaron began, and it finished; but the priesthood of Melchisedec had no beginning, and it had no end. He was, we are told, “Without beginning of days, and without end of years;” without father, without mother, without descent. Such is the priesthood of Christ’ It shall never end. He himself is without beginning, and his priesthood is without end. When the last ransomed soul is brought in. when there shall be no more prayers to offer, Christ shall still be a priest. Though he has no sacrifice now to slay, for he is the sacrifice himself, “once for all,” yet still he is a priest, and when all his people as the result of that sacrifice shall be assembled around his glorious throne, he shall still be the priest. “For thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” I take it that this is a further reason why he still bears his wounds in heaven. There is another and a terrible reason why Christ wears his wounds still. It is this. Christ is coming to judge the world. Christ has with himself to-day the accusers of his enemies. Every time that Christ lifts his hands to heaven, the men that hate him, or despise him, are accused. The Jewish nation is brought in guilty every day. The cry is remembered, “His blood be on us and on our children;” and the sin of casting Christ away, and rejecting him, is brought before the mind of the Most High. And when Christ shall come a second time to judge the world in righteousness, seated on the great white throne, that hand of his shall be the terror of the universe.” They shall look on him whom they have pierced,” and they shall mourn for their sins. They would not mourn with hopeful penitence in time, they shall mourn with sorrowful remorse throughout eternity. When the multitude are gathered together, when in the valley of Jehoshaphat Christ shall judge the nations, what need he to summon accusers? His own wounds are his witnesses. Why need he to summon any to convict men of sin? His own side bears their handiwork. Ye murderers, did you not do this? Ye sons of an evil generation did ye not pierce the Saviour? Did ye not nail him to the tree? Behold these holes in my hand, and this stab in my side; these are swift witnesses against you to condemn you I There is a terrible side, then to this question. A crucified Christ with his wounds still open will be a terrible sight for an assembled universe. “Well,” but says one of my congregation “What is that to us? We have not crucified the Saviour.” No but let me assure You that his blood shall be on you. If ye die unbelievers his blood shall be required at your hand. The death of Christ was wrought by the hand of manhood, of all and entire manhood. Others did it for you, and though you gave no consent verbally, yet you do assent in your heart every day. As long as you hate Christ you give an assent to his death. As long as you reject his sacrifice, and despise his love, you give evidence in your hearts that you would have crucified the Lord of glory had you been there. Nay, and you do yourself, so fares you can, crucify him afresh and put him to an open shame. When you laugh at his people, when you despise his word, and mock at his ordinances, you are driving nails into his hands, and thrusting the spear into his side; therefore those open hands and that pierced side shall be witnesses against you, even against you, if ye die rejecting him, and enter into eternity enemies to Christ by wicked works. I think I have thus supplied severe excellent reasons. But now there is one more which I shall offer to your consideration before I come to the lesson which you shall learn. Christ v, ears those marks in his hands that, as believers, you may never forget that he has died. We shall need, perhaps, nothing to refresh our memories in heaven. but still’ even if we should, we have it here. When we shall have been in heaven many a thousand years we shall still have the death of Christ before us, we shall see him reigning. But can you not conceive that the presence of the wounded Christ will often stir up the holy hearts of the celestial beings to a fresh outpouring of their grateful songs? They begin the song thus, “Unto him that liveth.” Jesus looks upon them and shows his hand and they add, “and was dead, and is alive for evermore, and hath the keys of hell and death.” They would not forget that he died; but certainly that part of the song where it said, “and was dead,” will have all the more sweetness, because there he sits with the very marks of his passion with the nail-prints of his crucifixion. If we shall be in heaven at all constituted as we are on earth, we shall need some visible token to keep us continually in remembrance. Here, you know, the most spiritual saint needs the bread and wine sweet emblems of the Saviour’s body. There we shall have nothing to do with emblems, for we shall have the sight of him. And I say, if we be in heaven anything like what we are here, I can imagine that the presence of Jesus may be highly beneficial, may be gloriously precious to the saints in reviving their love continually, and causing their hearts, which are like fountains of love, to bubble up afresh, and send out again the living water of gratitude and thanksgiving. At any rate, I know this thought is very delightful to me, that I shall see the man that did hang on Calvary’s cross, and that I shall see him as he did inane there. I delight to see my Saviour in all the glories of his Father, but I long to go back and see him as he was, as well as he is. I think I should sometimes envy Peter and the rest of them that they should have seen him crucified. Yes, I should say, I see him glorified, but you saw the most marvellous sight. To see a God is an every-day sight with glorified beings, but to see a God covered with his blood, this is an extraordinary thing. To see Christ glorified, that we may see each day, but to have seen him on that special occasion, made obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross, that was an extraordinary sight which even angels themselves could see but once. You and I cannot see that. But those wounds are there still manifest and visible, and we shall be delighted with the rapturous sight of the Lord in glory, with his wounds still fresh upon him. May the Lord grant that we may all be there to see it. May we refresh ourselves with that glorious sight. I can say that I would part with all the joys of sense to view his face Everything that is good on earth I would give away without a wish, without one single lingering thought, if I might but behold his face, and lie in his bosom, and see the dear pierced hands and the wide-open side. We must wait his pleasure. A few more rolling suns shall do it. The moon shall rise and wane for us a few more times, and then
“We shall see his face, and never, never sin But from tile rivers of his grace, drink endless pleasures in.”
III. This brings me now to the third point. WHAT DOES CHRIST MEAN BY SHOWING TO US HIS HANDS AND FEET? He means this that suffering is absolutely necessary. Christ is the head, and his people are the members. If suffering could have been avoided, surely our glorious Head ought to have escaped; but inasmuch as he shows us his wounds, it is to tell us, that we shall have wounds too. Innocence ought to escape suffering. Did not Pilate mean as much when be said, “I find no fault in him, therefore let him go?” But innocence did not escape suffering. Even the captain of our salvation must be made perfect through suffering; therefore, we who are guilty, we who are far from being perfect, must not wonder that we have to be wounded too. Shall the head be crowned with thorns, and do you imagine that the other members of the body are to be rocked upon the dainty lap of ease? Must Jesus Christ swim through seas of his own blood to win the crown, and are you and I to walk to heaven dryshod in silver slippers? No, the wounds of Christ are to teach us that suffering is necessary. In fact, that doctrine was taught upon Mount Calvary. There are only three sorts of men that have ever lived a good man, a bad man, and the God-man. Now, on Calvary’s cross, I see three characters, I see the thief, the representative of the bad. I see the penitent thief, the representative of the righteous, and I see the God-man in the midst. All three must suffer. Do not imagine, for a moment, that wicked men get through this world without suffering. Oh, no. The path to hell is very rough, though it seems smooth. When men will damn themselves, they will not find it a very pleasurable task. The cutting the throat of one’s soul is not such a pleasant operation. The drinking the poison of damnation is not, after all, an enviable task. The path of the sinner may seem to be happy, but it is not. It is a gilded deceit. He knows there is bitterness in his bowels, even here on earth. Even the wicked must suffer. But, mark, if any out of the world would have escaped it would be the God-man; but the God-man did not escape. He shows us his wounds; and do you think that you shall remain unwounded? Not if you are his, at any rate. Men sometimes escape on earth; but the true-born child of God must not, and would not, if he might, for if he did, he would then give himself cause to say, “I am no part of the body; if I were a part of the body, my head suffered, and so must I suffer, for I am part of his living body.” That is the first lesson he teaches us, the necessity of suffering. But next he teaches us his sympathy with us in our suffering. “There,” says he, “see this hand! I am not an high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of your infirmities. I have suffered, too. I was tempted in all ways like as you are. Look here! there are the marks there are the marks. They are not only tokens of my love, they are not only sweet forget-me-nots that bind me to love you for ever. But besides that they are the evidence of my sympathy. I can feel for you. Look look I have suffered. Have you the heart-ache? Ah, look yon here, what a heartache I had when this heart was pierced Do you suffer, even unto blood wrestling against sin? So did I. I have sympathy with you.” It was this that sustained the early martyrs. One of them declared that while he was suffering he fixed his eyes on Christ; and when they were pinching his flesh dragging it off with the hot harrows, when they were putting him to agonies so extraordinary, that I could not dare to mention them here, lest some of you should faint even under the very narrative, he said, “My soul is not insensible but it loves.” What a glorious speech was that! It loves it loves Christ. It was not insensible, but love gave it power to overcome suffering, a power as potent as insensibility. “For,” said he, “my eyes are fixed on him that suffered for me, and I can suffer for him; for my soul is in his body; I have sent my heart up unto him. He is my brother, and there my heart is. Plough my flesh, and break my bones; smash them with veer irons, I can bear it all, for Jesus suffered, and he suffers in me now; but he sympathises with me, arid this makes me strong.” Yes, beloved, lay hold on this in all times of your agony. When you are sweating, think of his bloody so eat. When you are bruised, think of the whips that tore his flesh. And when you are aging, think of his death. And when God hides his face for a little from you, think of “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” This is why he wears his wounds in his hands, that he may show that he sympathises with you. Another thing. Christ wears these wounds to show that suffering is an honorable thing. To suffer for Christ is glory. Men will say, “It is glorious to make others suffer.” When Alexander rides over the necks of princes, and treads nations beneath his feet, that is glorious. The Christian religion teaches us it is glorious to be trodden on, glorious to be crushed, glorious to suffer. This is hard to learn. There we see it in our glorified Master. He makes his wounds his glory, and his sufferings are part of the drapery of his regal attire in Paradise Now, then, it is an honorable thing to suffer. Oh, Christian, when you are overtaken by strange troubles, be not afraid. God is near you. It was Christ’s honor to suffer, and it is yours too. The only degree that God gives to his people is the degree of “Masters in tribulation.” If you would be one of God’s nobles you must be knighted. Men are knighted with A blow of the sword. The Lord knights us with the sword of affliction; and when we fight hard in many a battle, he makes us barons of the kingdom of heaven, he makes us dukes and lords in the kingdom of sorrowful honor, not through honor of man, but through dishonor of man, not through joy, but through suffering, and grief, and agony, and death. The highest honor that God can confer upon his children is the blood-red crown of martyrdom. When I read, as I have been reading lately, the story of the catacombs of Rome, and those short but very pithy inscriptions that are written over the graves of the martyrs, I felt sometimes as it I could envy them. I do not envy them their racks, their hot irons, their being dragged at the heels of horses; but I do envy them when I see them arrayed in the blood-red robe of martyrdom. Who are they that stand nearest to the eternal throne, foremost of the saints in light? Why, the noble army of martyrs. And just as God shall give us grace to suffer for Christ, to suffer with Christ, and to suffer as Christ, just so much does he honor us. The jewels of a Christian are his afflictions. The regalia of the kings, that God hath made, are their troubles, their sorrows, and their griefs Let us not, therefore, shun being honored. Let us not turn aside from being exalted. Griefs exalt us, and troubles lift us. Lastly, there is one sweet thought connected with the wounds of Christ that has charmed my soul, and made my heart run over with delight. It is this: I have sometimes thought that if I am a part of Christ’s body I am a poor wounded part; if I do belong to that all-glorious whole, the church, which is his fullness, the fullness of him that filleth all in all, yet have I said within me, “I am a poor maimed part, wounded, full of putrifying sores.” But Christ did not leave even his wounds behind him, even those he took to heaven. “Not a bone of him shall be broken,” and the flesh when wounded shall not be discarded, shall not be left. He shall carry that with him to heaven, and he shall glorify even the wounded member. Is not this sweet, is not this precious to the troubled child of God? This, indeed, is a thought from which one may suck honey. Poor, weak, and wounded though I am, he will not discard me. His wounds are healed wounds, mark! they are not running sores; and so, though we be the wounded parts of Christ, we shall be healed; though we shall seem to ourselves in looking back upon what we were upon earth only as wounds, only parts of a wounded body, still we shall rejoice that he has healed those wounds, and that he has not cast us away. Precious, precious truth I The whole body he will present before his Father’s face, and wounded though he be, he shall not cast his own wounds away, Let us take comfort, then, in this; let us rejoice therein. We shall be presented at last, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. Mark, Christ’s wounds are no spots to him, no wrinkles, they are ornaments; and even those parts of his church on earth that despair of themselves, thinking themselves to be as wounds shall be no spots, no wrinkles in the complete church above, but even they shall be the ornaments and the glory of Christ. Let us now look up by faith and see Jesus, the Wounded Jesus, sitting on his throne. Will not this help us to gird up our loins to “run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the Shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” I cannot send you away without this last remark. Poor sinner, thou art troubled on account of sin. There is a sweet thought for thee. Men are afraid to go to Christ, or else they say, “My Sins are so many I cannot go to him; he will be angry with me.” Do you see his hands outstretched to you to night? He is in heaven, and he still says, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Are you afraid to come? Then, look at his hand look at his hand, will not that induce you? “Oh,” but you say, “I cannot think that Christ can have it in his heart to remember such a worm as I.” Look at his side, there is easy access to his heart. His side is open, and even your poor prayers may be thrust into that side, and they shall reach his heart, holy though it be. Only do thou look to his wounds, and thou shalt certainly find peace through the blood of Jesus. There were two monks of late years in different cells in their convent. They were reading the Bible. One of them found Christ while reading the Scriptures, and he believed with a true evangelical faith. The other one was timid, and could scarcely think it true; the scheme of salvation seemed so great to him he could scarcely lay hold upon it. But, at last, he lay upon the point to die, and he sent for the other to come and sit by him, and to shut the door; because if the superior had heard of that of which they were about to speak, he might have condemned them both. When the monk had sat down, the sick man began to tell how his sins lay heavy on him; the other reminded him of Jesus. “If you would be saved, brother, you must look to Jesus who did hang upon the cross. His wounds must save.” The poor man heard and he believed. Almost immediately afterwards came in the superior, with the brethren and the priests; and they began to grease him in extreme unction. This poor man tried to push them away; he could not bear the ceremony, and as well as he could he expressed his dissent. At last his lips were opened, and he said in Latin, “Tu vulnera Jesu!” thy wounds, oh Jesus! thy wounds, oh Jesus! clasped his hands, lifted them to heaven, fell back and died. Oh, I would that many a Protestant would die with these words on his lips. There was the fullness of the gospel in them. Thy wounds, oh Jesus! thy wounds; these are my refuge in my trouble. Oh sinner, may you be helped to believe in his wounds! They cannot fail; Christ’s wounds must heal those that put their trust in him.
Beginning at Jerusalem; Christ’s First and Last Subject
Beginning at Jerusalem
June 14th, 1883 by C. H. SPURGEON
“And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”Luke 24:47
The servants of God were not left to originate a gospel for themselves, as certain modern teachers appear to do, nor were they even left to map out their mode of procedure in the spreading of the glad tidings. They were told by their great Master what to preach, and where to preach it, and how to preach it, and even where to begin to preach it. There is ample room for the exercise of our thought in obeying Christ’s commands; but the worldly wise in these days call no one a thoughtful person who is content to be a docile follower of Jesus. They call themselves “thoughtful and cultured” simply because they set up their own thoughts in opposition to the thoughts of God. It were well if they would remember the old proverb–“Let another praise thee, and not thine own lips.” As a rule those who call themselves “intellectual” are by no means persons of great intellect. Great minds seldom proclaim their own greatness. These boasters are not satisfied to be “followers of God, as dear children,” but must strike out a path for themselves; this reveals their folly rather than their culture. We shall find use for every faculty which we possess, even if we are endowed with ten talents, in doing just as we are bidden by our Lord. Implicit obedience is not thoughtless: on the contrary, it is necessary to its completeness that heart and mind should be active in it.
I. Ye that would faithfully serve Christ note carefully how he taught his disciples WHAT THEY WERE TO PREACH. We find different descriptions of the subject of our preaching, but on this occasion it is comprised in two things–repentance and remission of sins. I am glad to find in this verse that old- fashioned virtue called repentance. It used to be preached, but it has gone out of fashion now. Indeed, we are told that we always misunderstood the meaning of the word “repentance”; and that it simply means a “change of mind,” and nothing more. I wish that those who are so wise in their Greek knew a little more of that language, for they would not be so ready with their infallible statements. True, the word does signify a change of mind, but in its Scriptural connection it indicates a change of mind of an unusual character. It is not such a fitful thing as men mean when they speak of changing their minds, as some people do fifty times a day; but it is a change of mind of a deeper kind. Gospel repentance is a change of mind of the most radical sort–such a change as never was wrought in any man except by the Spirit of God. We mean to teach repentance, the old-fashioned repentance, too; and I do not know a better description of it that the child’s verse:–
“Repentance is to leave
The things we loved before,
And show that we in earnest grieve
By doing so no more.”
Let every man understand that he will never have remission of sin while he is in love with sin; and that if he abides in sin he cannot obtain the pardon of sin. There must be a hatred of sin, a loathing of it, and a turning from it, or it is not blotted out. We are to preach repentance as a duty. “The times of this ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” He that has sinned is bound to repent of having sinned: it is the least that he can do. How can any man ask God for mercy while he abides in his sin?
We are to preach the acceptableness of repentance. In itself considered there is nothing in repentance deserving of the favour of God; but, the Lord Jesus Christ having come, we read, “He that confess and forsaketh his sin shall find mercy.” God accepts repentance for the sake of his dear Son. He smiles upon the penitent sinner, and puts away his iniquities. this we are to make known on all sides.
We are also to preach the motives of repentance–that men may not repent from mere fear of hell, but they must repent of sin itself. Every thief is sorry when he has to go to prison: every murderer is sorry when the noose is about his neck: the sinner must repent, not because of the punishment of sin, but because his sin is sin against a pardoning God, sin against a bleeding Saviour, sin against a holy law, sin against a tender gospel. The true penitent repents of sin against God, and he would do so even if there were no punishment. When he is forgiven, he repents of sin more than ever; for he sees more clearly than ever the wickedness of offending so gracious a God.
We are to preach repentance in its perpetuity. Repentance is not a grace which is only to be exercised by us for a week or so at the beginning of our Christian career: it is to attend us all the way to heaven. Faith and repentance are to be inseparable companions throughout our pilgrimage to glory. Repenting of our sin, and trusting in the great Sinbearer, is to be the tenor of our lives; and we are to preach to men that it must be so. We are to tell them of the source of repentance, namely, that the Lord Jesus Christ is exalted on high to give repentance and remission of sins. Repentance is a plant that never grows on nature’s dunghill: the nature must be changed, and repentance must be implanted by the Holy Spirit, or it will never flourish in our hearts. We preach repentance as a fruit of the Spirit, or else we greatly err.
Our second theme is to be remission of sins. What a blessed subject is this!
To preach the full pardon of sin–that it is blotted out once for all; the free pardon of sin–that God forgives voluntarily of his own grace; free forgiveness for the very chief of sinners for all their sins, however black they may be; is not this a grand subject? We are to preach a final and irreversible remission; not a pardon which is given and taken back again, so that a man may have his sins forgiven and yet be punished for them. I loathe such a gospel as that, and could not preach it. It would come with an ill grace from these lips. But the pardon of God once given stands for ever. If he has cast our sin into the depths of the sea it will never be washed up again.If he has removed our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west, how can they return to condemn us? Once washed in the blood of the Lamb we are clean. The deed is done: the one offering has put away for ever all the guilt of believers.
Now this is what we are to preach–free, full, irreversible pardon for all that repent of sin, and lay hold on Christ by faith. O servants of the Lord, be not ashamed to declare it, for this is your message!
II. Next to this, we are told WHERE IT IS TO BE PREACHED. The text says that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations. Here, then, we have the divine warrant for missions. They are no speculations, or enthusiastic dreams; they are matters of divine command. I daresay you have heard of what the Duke of Wellington said to a missionary in India who was questioning whether it was of any use to preach the gospel to the Hindus. “What are your marching orders?” said this man of discipline and obedience. “What are your marching orders?” that is the deciding question. Now the marching orders are, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” What a wonder it is that the church did not see this long before. After her first days she seems to have fallen asleep, and it is scarcely a hundred years ago since in the providence and grace of God the church began to wake to her high enterprise. We are to preach the gospel everywhere: missions are to be universal. All nations need the preaching of the word. The gospel is a remedy for every human ill among all the races that live upon the face of the earth. Some out of all nations shall receive it; for there shall be gathered before the eternal throne men out of every kindred, and nation, and tongue. No nation will utterly refuse it: there will be found a remnant according to the election of grace even among the most perverse of the tribes of men.
We ought to preach it to every creature, for it is written that it behoved to be so. Read the forty-sixth verse: “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: . . . and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations.” Brethren, there was a divine necessity that Christ should die, and an equally imperative must that he should arise again from the dead; but there is an equally absolute necessity that Jesus should be preached to every creature under heaven. It behoves to be so. Who, then, will linger? Let us each one, according to his ability and opportunity, tell to all around us the story of the forgiveness of sin through the Mediator’s sacrifice to as many as confess their sin and forsake it. We are bidden to preach repentance of sin and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, let us not be slow to do so.
III. But this is not all . We are actually told HOW TO PREACH IT.
Repentance and remission are to be preached in Christ’s name. What does this mean? Ought we not to learn from this that we are to tell the gospel to others, because Christ orders us to do so? In Christ’s name we must do it. Silence is sin when salvation is the theme. If these should hold their peace, the stones would cry out against them. My brethren, you must proclaim the gospel according to your ability: it is not a thing which you may do or may not do at your own discretion; but you must do it if you have any respect for your Saviour’s name. If you dare pray in that name, if you dare hope in that name, if you hear the music of joy in that name, then in the name of Jesus Christ preach the gospel in every land.
But it means more than that. Not only preach it under his orders, but preach it on his authority. The true servant of Christ has his Master to back him up. The Lord Jesus will seal by threatening or by grace the word of his faithful messengers. If we threaten the ungodly, the threatening shall be fulfilled. If we announce God’s promise to the penitent, that promise shall be surely kept. The Lord Jesus will not let the words of his own ambassadors fall to the ground. “Lo, I am with you alway,” says he, “even to the end of the world. Go ye therefore and teach all nations.” You have Christ with you: teach the nations by his authority.
But does it not mean, also, that the repentance and the remission which are so bound together come to men by virtue of his name? Oh, sinner, there would be no acceptance of your repentance if it were not for that dear name! Oh, guilty conscience, there would be no ease for you through the remission of sin if it were not that the blessed name of Jesus is sweet to the Lord God of hosts! We dare preach pardon to you in his name. The blood has been shed and sprinkled on the burning throne: the Christ has gone in within the veil, and stands there “able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Salvation in his name there is assuredly, and this is our glory; but “there is none other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved.” That name has a fullness of saving efficacy, and if you will but rest in it, you shall find salvation, and find it now. Thus you see we are not bidden to go forth and say–We preach you the gospel in the name of our own reason; or we preach you the gospel in the name of the church to which we belong, or by the authority of a synod, or a bishop, or a creed, or a whole church. No, we declare the truth in the name of Christ. Christ has set his honour to pawn for the truth of the gospel. He will lose his glory if sinners that believe and repent are not saved. Dishonour will come to the Son of God if any man repenting of sin is not accepted before God. For his name’s sake he will not cast away one that comes to him. O chief of sinners! he will receive you if you will come. He cannot reject you; that were to be false to his own promise, untrue to his own nature.
Be sure then that you preach in Christ’s name. If you preach in your own name it is poor work. A man says to me, “I cannot tell a dead sinner to live. I cannot tell a blind sinner to see. I cannot invite an insensible sinner; it is absurd; for the sinner is altogether without strength.” No, dear sir, I do not suppose you can do so while you speak according to carnal reason. Does the good man say that God has not sent him to bid the dead arise? Then let him not do it. Pray let him not try to do what God never sent him to do. Let him go home and go to bed; he will probably do as much good asleep as awake. But as for me, I am sent to preach in Jesus’ name, “Believe and live,” and therefore I am not slow to do so. I am sent on purpose to say, Ye dry bones, live, and I dare do no otherwise. No faithful minister who knows what faith means looks to the sinner for power to believe, or looks to himself for power; but he looks to the Master that sent him for power; and in the name of Christ he says to the withered hand, “Be stretched out,” and he says to the dead, “Come forth!” and he does not speak in vain. Oh, yes, it is in Christ’s name that we fulfil our office! We are miracle-workers: he endows us with his power if in faith we tell out his gospel. All of you who try to speak the gospel may do it without fear of failure; for the power lies in the gospel and in the Spirit who goes with it, not in the preacher or in the sinner. Blessed be the name of God, we have this treasure in earthen vessels but the excellency of the power is of God, and not of us. So he tells us, then, what to preach, and where to preach it, and how to preach it.
IV. Now, I shall ask your attention to the principal topic of the present discourse, and that is, that he told his disciples WHERE TO BEGIN.
I have heard of a Puritan who had in his sermon forty-five main divisions, and about ten subdivisions under every head. He might be said largely to divide the word of truth, even if he did not rightly divide it. Now,I have nine subheads to-night, and yet I hope I shall not detain you beyond the usual time. I cannot make fewer of them and give the full meaning of this sentence–“Beginning at Jerusalem.” The apostles were not to pick and choose where they should start, but they were to begin at Jerusalem. Why? First, because it was written in the Scriptures that they were to begin at Jerusalem: “Thus it is written,and thus it behoves, that repentance and remission of sin should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” It was so written: I will give you two or three proofs. Read in the second chapter of Isaiah, at the third verse: “Out of Zion shall come forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Isaiah’s word would have fallen to the ground if the preaching had not begun at Jerusalem; but now, to the very letter, this prediction of the evangelical prophet is kept. In Joel, that famous Joel who prophesied the descent of the Spirit and the speaking of the servants and the handmaidens, we read in the second chapter, at the thirty-second verse, “In mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance;” and again in the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of the same prophet–“The Lord shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem.” As if the Lord were as a strong lion in the midst of Jerusalem, and as if the sounding forth of the gospel was like the roaring of his voice, that the nations might hear and tremble. How could those promises have been kept if the gospel had begun to be preached in the deserts of Arabia, or if the first church of Christ had been set up at Damascus? Note another passage. Obadiah in his twenty-first verse says, “Saviours shall come up on mount Zion.” Who were these saviours but those who instrumentally became so by proclaiming the Saviour Jesus Christ. And Zechariah, who is full of visions, but not visionary, says in his fourteenth chapter at the eighth verse, “Living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem,” and then he describes the course of those waters till they flowed even unto the Dead Sea, and made its waters sweet. Because the Bible said so, therefore they must begin at Jerusalem, and I call your attention to this, for our Lord Jesus was particular that every jot and tittle of the Old Testament should be fulfilled. Do you not think that this reads us a lesson that we should be very reverent towards every sentence of both the Old and the New Testaments; and if there be anything taught by our Lord ought not his people to consider well, and act according to the divine ordinance? I am afraid that many take their religion from their parents, or from the church that is nearest to them, without weighing it. “I counsel thee to keep the King’s commandment.” Oh, that we may be more faithful servants of the Lord; for if we are faithful we shall be careful upon what men call small points, such as the doctrine of baptism, the manner of the Lord’s Supper, or this small point of where the gospel should be first preached. It must begin at Jerusalem and nowhere else; for the Scripture cannot be broken. See ye to it, then, that ye walk according to the word of God, and that ye test everything by it. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” So much on that first head.
Secondly, I suppose that our Lord bade his disciples begin to preach the gospel at Jerusalem, because it was at Jerusalem that the facts which make up the gospel had occurred. It was there that Jesus Christ died, that he was buried, that he rose again, and that he ascended into heaven. All these things happened at Jerusalem, or not far from it. Therefore the witness-bearing of the apostles must be upon the spot where if they lie they can be confuted, and where persons can come forward and say, “It was not so; you are deceivers.” If our Lord had said, “Do not say anything in Jerusalem. Go away to Rome and begin preaching there,” it would not have looked quite so straightforward as it now does when he says, “Preach this before the scribes and the priests. They know that it is so. They have bribed the soldiers to say otherwise, but they know that I have risen.” The disciples were to preach the gospel in the streets of Jerusalem. There were people in that city who were once lame, and who leaped like a hart when Jesus healed them. There were men and women there who ate of the fish and that bread that Jesus multiplied. There were people in Jerusalem who had seen their children and their friends healed of dreadful diseases. Jesus bids his disciples beard the lion in his den, and declare the gospel on the spot where, if it had been untrue, it would have been contradicted with violence. Our Lord seemed to say, “Point to the very place where my death took place. Tell them that they crucified me; and see if they dare deny it. Bring it home to their consciences that they rejected the Christ of God.” Hence it was that, coming to the very people who had seen these things, the preaching of Peter had unusual force about it: in addition to the power of the Holy Spirit there was also this–that he was telling them of a crime which they had newly committed, and could not deny: and when they saw their error they turned to God with penitent hearts. I like this thought–that they were to begin at Jerusalem, because there the events of the gospel occurred. This is a direction for you, dear friend: if you have been newly converted, do not be ashamed to tell those who know you. A religion which will not stand the test of the fireside is not worth much! “Oh,” says one. “I have never told my husband. I get out on a Thursday night, but he does not know where I am going, and I steal in here. I have never even told my children that I am a believer. I do not like to let it be known. I am afraid that all my family would oppose me.” Oh, yes; you are going to heaven, round by the back lanes. Going to sneak into glory as a rat crawls into a room through a hole in the floor! Do not attempt it. Never be ashamed of Christ. Come straight out and say to your friends, “You know what I was; but now I have become a disciple of Jesus Christ.” Begin at Jerusalem: it was your Lord’s command. He had nothing to be ashamed of. There was no falsehood in what he bade his disciples preach, and therefore he did as good as say, “Hang up my gospel to the light. It is nothing but truth, therefore display it before mine enemies’ eyes.” If yours is a true, genuine, thorough conversion, I do not say that you are to go up and down the street crying out that you are converted; but on due occasions you must not hide your convictions. Conceal not what the Lord has done for you, but hold up your candle in your own house.
The third reason why the Lord Jesus told them to begin at Jerusalem may have been that he knew that there would come a time when some of his disciples would despise the Jews, and therefore he said–When you preach my gospel, begin with them. This is a standing commandment, and everywhere we ought to preach the gospel to the Jew as well as to the Gentile; Paul even says, “to the Jew first.” Some seem to think that there ought to be no mission to the Jews–that there is no hope of converting them, that they are of no use when they are converted, and so on. I have even heard some who call themselves Christians speak slightingly of the Jewish people. What! and your Lord and Master a Jew! There is no race on earth so exalted as they are. They are the seed of Abraham, God’s friend. We have nobles and dukes in England, but how far could they trace their pedigree? Why, up to a nobody. But the poorest Jew on earth is descended linearly from Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham. Instead of treating them with anything like disrespect, the Saviour says, “Begin at Jerusalem.” Just as we say, “Ladies first,” so it is “the Jew first.” They take precedence among races, and are to be first waited on at the gospel feast. Jesus would have us entertain a deep regard to that nation which God chose of old, and out of which Christ also came, for he is of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh. He puts those first who knew him first. Let us never sneer at a Jew again; for our Lord teaches us the rule of his house when he says, “Begin at Jerusalem.” Let the seed of Israel first have the gospel presented to them, and if they reject it we shall be clear of their blood. But we shall not be faithful to our orders unless we have taken note of Jews as well as Gentiles. The fourth reason for beginning at Jerusalem is a practical lesson for you. Begin where you are tempted not to begin. Naturally these disciples would have said one to another when they met, “We cannot do much here in Jerusalem. The first night that we met together the doors were shut for fear of the Jews. It is of no use for us to go out into the street; these people are all in such an excited frame of mind that they will not receive us; we had better go up to Damascus, or take a long journey and then commence preaching; and when this excitement is cooled down, and they have forgotten about the crucifixion, we will come and introduce Christ gradually, and say as little as we can about putting him to death.” That would have been the rule of policy–that rule which often governs men who ought to be led by faith. But our Lord had said, “Beginning at Jerusalem,” and so Peter must stand up in the midst of that motley throng, and he must tell them, “This Jesus whom ye have with wicked hands crucified and slain is now risen from the dead.” Instead of tearing Peter to pieces they come crowding up, crying, “We believe in Jesus: let us be baptised into his sacred name.” The same day there were added to the church three thousand souls, and a day or two afterwards five thousand were converted by the same kind of preaching. We ought always to try to do good where we think that it will not succeed. If we have a very strong aversion as a token that we are not called to it, we may regard it as a sign that we ought at least to try it. The devil knows you, dear friend, better than you know yourself. You see, he has been longer in the world than you have, and he knows a great deal more about human nature than you do; and so he comes to you, and he reckons you up pretty accurately, and says, “This brother would be very useful in a certain sphere of labour, and I must keep him from it.” So he tells the brother that he is not called to it, and that it is not the sort of thing for him, and so on; and then he says to himself, “I have turned aside one foe from harming my cause.” Yonder is a good sister. Oh, how much she might do for Christ, but Satan guides her into a work in which she will never shine; while the holy work which she could do right well is dreaded by her. I heard a beautiful story last Wednesday, when I was sitting to see inquirers, and I cannot help mentioning it here, for it may be a suggestion to some Christian who is present. A brother, who will be received into the church, was converted in the following way. He came up to London, and worked in a certain parish in the West- end. He was at work on a sewer, and a lady from one of the best houses in the West-end came to the men that were making the sewer and said, “You men, come into my servants’ hall and eat your dinners. I will give you either tea or coffee with your meal, and then you will not have to go into the public-house.” Some of them went in, but others did not. So the next day the lady came out, and said, “Now, I know that you think my place too fine for you. You do not like to come; so I have come out to fetch you in. While this sewer is being done I should like you to eat your dinners in my house.” She got them all in; and when they had done their dinners and drank their tea or coffee she began to talk to them about Jesus Christ. The work was a month or so about, and it was every day the same. Our friend does not know the lady’s name, but he knows the name of Jesus through her teaching. Friends, we lose hosts of opportunities; I am sure we do. Many ways of doing good have never occurred to our minds, but they ought to occur to us; and when they do occur we should use them. Let us crucify the flesh about this. Let us overcome natural timidity. Let us in some way or other begin at Jerusalem, which is just where we thought that we never could begin. Now fifthly. We are getting on, you see. “Beginning at Jerusalem,” must surely mean begin at home. Jerusalem was the capital city of their own country. You know the old proverb, “The cobbler’s wife goes barefoot.” I am afraid that this proverb is verified by some Christians. They do a deal of good five miles off home, but none at home. I knew a man who used to go out with preachers every night in the week, and try to preach himself, poor soul that he was; but his children were so neglected that they were the most wicked children in the street, and they grew up in all manner of vice. The father was prancing about and looking after other people, and did not care for his own family. Now, if you are going to serve Christ to the very ends of the earth, take care that you begin at home. Dear parents, need I urge you to look to your own children? It is a great joy to me to know that the members of the church for the most part do this. When a dear sister came to me on Wednesday night with three of her children, making four that had come within the last six weeks, I felt grateful to God that parents were looking after their offspring. But if any of you are in the Sabbath-school, and never have a Sabbath-school at home; if any of you talk to strangers in the aisles, but are neglecting your own sons and daughters–oh, let it not be so! The power of a father’s prayers with his arms about his boy’s neck I know full well. The power of a mother’s prayers with her children all kneeling round her is far greater with the young than any public ministry will be. Look well to your children: begin at Jerusalem. Begin with your servants. Do not let a servant live in your house in ignorance of the gospel. Do not have family prayer merely as a matter of form, but let it be a reality. Do not have one person working for you to whom you have never spoken about his or her soul.
Begin with your brothers. Oh, the influence of sisters over brothers! I have a friend–a dear friend, too–who has long been a man of God, but in his young days he was a very loose fellow, and often he was all the night away from home. His sister used to write letters to him, and frequently while half tipsy he has read them under the street lamp. One letter which he read cut him to the quick. His sister’s grief about him was too much for him, and he was compelled to seek and find the Saviour. Well has the sister been rewarded for all her love to him. Oh, dear friends, begin at Jerusalem!
Begin with your brothers and sisters.
Begin with your neighbours. Oh, this London of ours! It is a horrible place for Christian people to live in! Round about this neighbourhood scarcely can a decent person remain by reason of the vice that abounds, and the language that is heard on every side. Many of you are as much vexed to- day as Lot was when he was in Sodom. Well, bear your witness. Do not be dumb dogs, but speak up for your Lord and Master whenever you are. Look at our dear brother Lazenby, who entered a workshop where none feared the Lord, and has been the means of bringing all in the shop to God. Another shop has felt his influence, and the first recruit has come to join the church: I should not wonder if the whole of the workmen in the second shop should come, too. The Lord grant it. It is marvellous how the gospel spreads when men are in earnest, and their lives are right. God make you so to live that you show piety at home.
Then, sixthly, begin where much has been already done. Begin at Jerusalem. It is hard work, dear friends, to preach to certain people: they have been preached to so long, like the people at Jerusalem. They know all about the gospel, it is hard to tell them anything fresh, and yet they have felt nothing, but remain wedded to their sins. The Jerusalem people had been taught for centuries in vain; and yet Christ’s disciples were to speak to them first. We must not pass the gospel-hardened; we must labour for the conversion of those who have enjoyed privileges but have neglected them, those who have had impressions and have crushed them out, those who seem now as if they had sealed their own death-warrants and would never be saved. Do not hesitate to go to them. The Lord has done much already: it may be that he has laid the fire, and you are to strike the match and set it all alight. Many people have a love to the gospel, a love to the house of God, a love to God’s people, and yet they have no saving faith. What a pity! Do not hesitate to address them. I think I hear you say, “I would rather go and preach to the outcasts.” So would I; but you and I are not allowed to pick our work. Virgin soil yields the best harvest; and if a man might choose a congregation that is likely to be fruitful, he might well select those that have never heard the word before. But we have not our choice. The Saviour’s disciples were to begin where the prophets had prophesied, and had been put to death; where sinners had rejected God’s voice times out of mind. Therefore do not pass by your fellow-seatholders. Perhaps you say, “Sir, I have spoken to them a great many times, but I cannot make anything of them.” No, you cannot; but God can. Try again. Suppose that for twenty years you were to sit in this Tabernacle side by side with an unconverted person, and you were to speak to that person twice every Sunday and twice in the week, and all the twenty years it should be in vain; yet if the individual was brought to Christ at last would not his conversion repay you? Is your time so very precious? Is your ability so very great? Oh, my dear friend, if you were an archangel it would be worth while for you to work a thousand years to bring one soul to Christ! A soul is such a precious jewel that you would be abundantly rewarded if a century of service only brought you one conversion. Wherefore, in working for Christ, do not hesitate to go to those who have refused the gospel hitherto, for you may yet prevail.
Seventhly, begin where the gospel day is short. If you ask me where I get that thought, it is from the fact that within a very short time Jerusalem was to be destroyed. The Romans were to come there to slay men, women, and children, and break down the walls and leave not one stone upon another. And Christ’s disciples knew this; wherefore their Lord said, “Begin at Jerusalem.” Now, then, if you have any choice as to the person you shall speak to, select an old man. He is near his journey’s end, and if he is unsaved there is but a little bit of candle left by the light of which he may come to Christ. Choose the old man, and do not let him remain ignorant of the gospel. Fish him up at once, for with him it is now or never, since he is on the borders of the grave. Or when any of you notice a girl upon whose cheek you see that hectic flush which marks consumption–if you notice during service the deep “churchyard” cough–say to yourself, “I will not let you go without speaking to you, for you may soon be dead.” How many a time have I seen a consumptive at Mentone apparently getting better; but I have noticed him rise from dinner with his handkerchief to his mouth and soon they have whispered, “He died of haemorrhage”–suddenly taken off. When you meet with a pining case, do not wait to be introduced, but introduce yourself; and tenderly, gently, quietly, lovingly say a word about coming to Christ at once. We ought speedily to look up those whose day of grace is short. Perhaps, also, there is a stranger near you who is going far away to a distant land, and may never hear the gospel again; therefore, if you have an opportunity, take care that you avail yourself of it, and reason with him for Jesus at once. Begin at Jerusalem: begin where the day of grace is short.
Eighthly, begin, dear friend, where you may expect opposition. That is a singular thing to advise, but I recommend it because the Saviour advised it. It was as certain as that twice two are four that if they preached Christ in Jerusalem, there would be a noise, for there were persons living there who hated the very name of Jesus, for they had conspired to put him to death. If they began at Jerusalem they would arouse a ferocious opposition. But nothing is much better for the gospel than opposition. A man comes into the Tabernacle to-night, and as he goes away he says, “Yes, I was pleased and satisfied.” In that man’s case I have failed. But another man keeps biting his tongue, for he cannot endure the preaching. He is very angry; something in the doctrine dos not suit him, and he cries, “As long as I live I will never come here again.” That man is hopeful. He begins to think. The hook has taken hold of him. Give us time, and we will have that fish. It is no ill omen when a man gets angry with the gospel. It is bad enough, but it is infinitely better than that horrible lethargy into which men fall when they do not think. Some are not good enough even to oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be hopeful of the man who will not let you speak to him, he is one that you must approach again; and if, when he does let you speak to him, he seems as if he would spit on you, be grateful for it. He feels your words. You are touching him on a sore place. You will have him yet. When he swears that he does not believe a word of what you say, do not believe a word of what he says; for often the man who openly objects secretly believes. Just as boys whistle when they go through a churchyard in order to keep their courage up, so many a blasphemer is profane in order to silence his conscience. When he feels the hook, like the fish, the man will drag away from it. Give him line. Let him go. The hook will hold, and in due time you will have him. Do not despair. Do not think it a horrible thing that he should oppose you; you should rather be grateful for it, and go to God and cry that he will give you that soul for your hire. Begin courageously where you may expect opposition.
And, lastly, to come to the meaning which Mr John Bunyan has put upon the text in his famous book called “The Jerusalem Sinner Saved,” I have no doubt that the Saviour bade them begin at Jerusalem, because the biggest sinners lived there. There they lived who had crucified him. The loving Jesus bids them preach repentance and remission to them. There he lived who had pierced the Saviour’s side, and they that had plaited the crown of thorns, and put it on his head. There dwell those who had mocked him and spat upon him; therefore the loving Jesus, who so freely forgives, says, “Go and preach the gospel first to them.” The greatest sinners are the objects of the greatest mercy. Preach first to them. Are there any such here? My dear friend, we must preach the gospel first to you because you want it most. You are dying; your wounds are bleeding; the heavenly surgeon bids us staunch your wounds first. Others who are not so badly hurt may wait awhile, but you must be first served lest you die of your injuries. Should not this encourage you great sinners to come to Jesus, when he bids us preach to you first?
We are to preach to you first because, when you have received him, you will praise him most. If you are saved you will encourage others to come, and you will cheer up those who have come already. We shall be glad to get fresh blood poured into the veins of the church by the conversion of big sinners who love much because they have had much forgiven. Therefore, we are to come to you first. Will you not come to Christ at once? Oh, that you would believe in him! Oh that you would believe in him to-night! To you is the word of this salvation sent. You old sinners–you that have added sin to sin, and done all you can do with both hands wickedly–you that have cursed his name–you that have robbed others–you that have told lies–you that have blackened yourselves with every crime, come and welcome to Jesus. Come to Christ and live at once. Mercy’s door is set wide open on purpose that the vilest of the vile may come; and they are called to come first. Just as you are, come along with you. Tarry not to cleanse or mend, but now “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” This night if you believe in Jesus you shall go out of these doors rejoicing that the Lord has put away your sin. To believe is to trust–simply to trust in Christ. It seems a very simple thing, but that is why it is so hard. If it were a hard thing you would more readily attend to it; but being so easy you cannot believe that it is effectual. But it is so; faith does save. Christ wants nothing of you but that you accept what he freely presents to you. Put out an empty hand, a black hand, a trembling hand; accept what Jesus gives, and salvation is yours.
Thus have I tried to expound “Beginning at Jerusalem,” O that my Lord would begin with you. Amen.
Christ’s First and Last Subject
August 19th, 1860 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”Matthew 4:17
“And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”Luke 24:47
It seems from these two texts that repentance was the first subject upon which the Redeemer dwelt, and that it was the last, which, with his departing breath, he commended to the earnestness of his disciples. He begins his mission crying, “Repent,” he ends it by saying to his successors the apostles, “Preach repentance and remission of sins among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” This seems to me to be a very interesting fact, and not simply interesting, but instructive. Jesus Christ opens his commission by preaching repentance. What then? Did he not by this act teach us how important repentance was-so important that the very first time he opens his mouth, he shall begin with, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Did he not feel that repentance was necessary to be preached before he preached faith in himself, because the soul must first repent of sin before it will seek a Saviour, or even care to know whether there is a Saviour at all? And did he not also indicate to us that as repentance was the opening lesson of the divine teaching, so, if we would be his disciples, we must begin by sitting on the stool of repentance, before we can possibly go upward to the higher forms of faith and of full assurance? Jesus at the first begins with repentance,-that repentance may be the Alpha, the first letter of the spiritual alphabet which all believers must learn; and when he concluded his divine commission with repentance, what did he say to us but this-that repentance was still of the very last importance? He preaches it with his first, he will utter it with his last breath; with this he begins, with this he will conclude. He knew that repentance was, to spiritual life, a sort of Alpha and Omega-it was the duty of the beginning, it was the duty of the end. He seemed to say to us, “Repentance, which I preached to you three years ago, when I first came into the world, as a public teacher, is as binding, as necessary for you who heard me then, and who then obeyed my voice, as it was at the very first instant, and it is equally needful that you who have been with me from the beginning, should not imagine that the theme is exhausted and out of date; you too must begin your ministry and conclude it with the same exhortation, ‘Repent and be converted, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” It seems to me that nothing could set forth Jesus Christ’s idea of the high value of repentance, more fully and effectually than the fact that he begins with it, and that he concludes with it-that he should say, “Repent,” as the key-note of his ministry, preaching this duty before he fully develops all the mystery of godliness, and that he should close his life-song as a good composer must, with his first key-note, bidding his disciples still cry, “Repentance and remission of sins are preached in Jesus’ name.” I feel then that I need no further apology for introducing to your solemn and serious attention, the subject of saving repentance. And oh! while we are talking of it, may God the Holy Ghost breathe into all our spirits, and may we now repent before him, and now find those blessings which he hath promised to the penitent.
With regard to repentance, these four things:-first, its origin; secondly, its essentials; thirdly, its companions; and fourthly, its excellencies.
I. Repentance-ITS ORIGIN.
When we cry, “Repent and be converted,” there are some foolish men who call us legal. Now we beg to state, at the opening of this first point, that repentance is of gospel parentage. It was not born near Mount Sinai. It never was brought forth anywhere but upon Mount Zion. Of course, repentance is a duty-a natural duty-because, when man hath sinned, who is there brazen enough to say that it is not man’s bounden duty to repent of having done so? It is a duty which even nature itself would teach. But gospel repentance was never yet produced as a matter of duty. It was never brought forth in the soul by demands of law, nor indeed can the law, except as the instrument in the hand of grace, even assist the soul towards saving repentance. It is a remarkable fact that the law itself makes no provision for repentance. It says, “This do, and thou shalt live; break my command, and thou shalt die.” There is nothing said about penitence; there is no offer of pardon made to those that repent. The law pronounces its deadly curse upon the man that sins but once, but it offers no way of escape, no door by which the man may be restored to favour. The barren sides of Sinai have no soil in which to nourish the lovely plant of penitence. Upon Sinai the dew of mercy never fell. Its lightnings and its thunders have frightened away the angel of Mercy once for all, and there Justice sits, with sword of flame, upon its majestic throne of rugged rock, never purposing for a moment to put up its sword into the scabbard, and to forgive the offender. Read attentively the twentieth chapter of Exodus. You have the commandments there all thundered forth with trumpet voice, but there is no pause between where Mercy with her silver voice may step in and say, “But if ye break this law, God will have mercy upon you, and will shew himself gracious if ye repent.” No words of repentance, I say, were ever proclaimed by the law; no promise by it made to penitents; and no assistance is by the law ever offered to those who desire to be forgiven. Repentance is a gospel grace. Christ preached it, but not Moses. Moses neither can nor will assist a soul to repent, only Jesus can use the law as a means of conviction and an argument for repentance. Jesus gives pardon to those who seek it with weeping and with tears; but Moses knows of no such thing. If repentance is ever obtained by the poor sinner, it must be found at the foot of the cross, and not where the ten commandments lie shivered at Sinai’s base. And as repentance is of gospel parentage, I make a second remark, it is also of gracious origin.
Repentance was never yet produced in any man’s heart apart from the grace of God. As soon may you expect the leopard to regret the blood with which its fangs are moistened,-as soon might you expect the lion of the wood to abjure his cruel tyranny over the feeble beasts of the plain, as expect the sinner to make any confession, or offer any repentance that shall be accepted of God, unless grace shall first renew the heart. Go and loose the bands of everlasting winter in the frozen north with your own feeble breath, and then hope to make tears of penitence bedew the cheek of the hardened sinner. Go ye and divide the earth, and pierce its bowels with an infant’s finger, and then hope that your eloquent appeal, unassisted by divine grace, shall be able to penetrate the adamantine heart of man. Man can sin, and he can continue in it, but to leave the hateful element is a work for which he needs a power divine. As the river rushes downward with increasing fury, leaping from crag to crag in ponderous cataracts of power, so is the sinner in his sin; onward and downward, onward, yet more swiftly, more mightily, more irresistibly, in his hellish course. Nothing but divine grace can bid that cataract leap upward, or make the floods retrace the pathway which they have worn for themselves down the rocks. Nothing, I say, but the power which made the world, and digged the foundations of the great deep, can ever make the heart of man a fountain of life from which the floods of repentance may gush forth. So then, soul, if thou shalt ever repent, it must be a repentance, not of nature, but of grace. Nature can imitate repentance; it can produce remorse; it can generate the feeble resolve; it can even lead to a partial, practical reform; but unaided nature cannot touch the vitals and new-create the soul. Nature may make the eyes weep, but it cannot make the heart bleed. Nature can bid you amend your ways, but it cannot renew your heart. No, you must look upward, sinner; you must look upward to him who is able to save unto the uttermost. You must at his hands receive the meek and tender spirit; from his finger must come the touch that shall dissolve the rock; and from his eye must dart the flash of love and light that can scatter the darkness of your impenitence. Remember, then, at the outset, that true repentance is of gospel origin, and is not the work of the law; and on the other hand, it is of gracious origin, and is not the work of the creature.
II. But to pass forward from this first point to our second head, let us notice the ESSENTIALS of true repentance. The old divines adopted various methods of explaining penitence. Some of them said it was a precious medicine, compounded of six things; but in looking over their divisions, I have felt that I might with equal success divide repentance into four different ingredients. This precious box of ointment which must be broken over the Saviour’s heard before the sweet perfume of peace can ever be smelt in the soul-this precious ointment is compounded of four most rare, most costly things. God give them to us and then give us the compound itself mixed by the Master’s hand. True repentance consists of illumination, humiliation, detestation, and transformation.
To take them one by one. The first part of true repentance consists of illumination. Man by nature is impenitent, because he does not know himself to be guilty. There are many acts which he commits in which he sees no sin, and even in great and egregious faults, he often knows that he is not right, but he does not perceive the depth, the horrible enormity of the sin which is involved in them. Eye-salve is one of the first medicines which the Lord uses with the soul. Jesus touches the eye of the understanding, and the man becomes guilty in his own sight, as he always was guilty in the sight of God. Crimes long forgotten start up from the grave where his forgetfulness had buried them; sins, which he thought were no sins, suddenly rise up on their true character, and acts, which he thought were perfect, now discover themselves to have been so mixed with evil motive that they were far from being acceptable with God. The eye is no more blind, and therefore the heart is no more proud, for the seeing eye will make a humble heart. If I must paint a picture of penitence in this first stage, I should portray a man with his eyes bandaged walking through a path infested with the most venomous vipers; vipers which have formed a horrible girdle about his loins, and are hanging like bracelets from his wrists. The man is so blind that he knows not where he is, nor what it is which he fancies to be a jewelled belt upon his arm. I would then in the picture touch his eyes and bid you see his horror, and his astonishment, when he discovers where he is and what he is. He looks behind him, and he sees through what broods of vipers he has walked; he looks before him, and he sees how thickly his future path is strewed with these venomous beasts. He looks about him, and in his living bosom looking out from his guilty heart, he sees the head of a vile serpent, which has twisted its coils into his very vitals. I would try, if I could, to throw into that face, horror, dismay, dread, and sorrow, a longing to escape, an anxious desire to get rid of all these things which must destroy him unless he should escape from them. And now, my dear hearers, have you ever been the subject of this divine illumination? Has God, who said to an unformed world, “Let there be light,” has he said, “Let there be light” in your poor benighted soul? Have you learned that your best deeds have been vile, and that as for your sinful acts they are ten thousand times more wicked than ever you believed them to be? I will not believe that you have ever repented unless you have first received divine illumination. I cannot expect a blind eye to see the filth upon a black hand, nor can I ever believe that the understanding which has never been enlightened can detect the sin which has stained your daily life.
Next to illumination, comes humiliation. The soul having seen itself, bows before God, strips itself of all its vain boasting, and lays itself flat on its face before the throne of mercy. It could talk proudly once of merit, but now it dares not pronounce the word. Once it could boast itself before God, with “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are”; but now it stands in the distance, and smites upon its breast, crying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Now the haughty eye, the proud look, which God abhorreth, are cast away, and the eye, instead thereof, becomes a channel of tears-its floods are perpetual, it mourneth, it weepeth, and the soul crieth out both day and night before God, for it is vexed with itself, because it has vexed the Holy Spirit, and is grieved within itself because it hath grieved the Most High. Here if I had to depict penitence, I should borrow the picture of the men of Calais before our conquering king. There they kneel, with ropes about their necks, clad in garments of sackcloth, and ashes cast about their heads, confessing that they deserve to die; but stretching out their hands they implore mercy; and one who seems the personification of the angel of mercy-or rather, of Christ Jesus, the God of mercy-stands pleading with the king to spare their lives. Sinner, thou hast never repented unless that rope has been about thy neck after a spiritual fashion, if thou hast not felt that hell is thy just desert, and that if God banish thee for ever from himself, to the place where hope and peace can never come, he has only done with thee what thou hast richly earned. If thou hast not felt that the flames of hell are the ripe harvest which thy sins have sown, thou hast never yet repented at all. We must acknowledge the justice of the penalty as well as the guilt of the sin, or else it is but a mock repentance which we pretend to possess. Down on thy face, sinner, down on thy face; put away thine ornaments from thee, that he may know what to do with thee. No more anoint thine head and wash thy face, but fast and bow thy head and mourn. Thou hast made heaven mourn, thou hast made earth sad, thou hast digged hell for thyself. Confess thine iniquity with shame, and with confusion of face; bow down before the God of mercy and acknowledge that if he spare thee it will be his free mercy that shall do it; but if he destroy thee, thou shalt not have one word to say against the justice of the solemn sentence. Such a stripping does the Holy Spirit give, when he works this repentance, that men sometimes under it sink so low as even to long for death in order to escape from the burden which soul-humiliation has cast upon them. I do not desire that you should have that terror, but I do pray that you may have no boasting left, that you may stop your mouth and feel that if now the judgment hour were set, and the judgment day were come, you must stand speechless, even though God should say, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire in hell.” Without this I say there is no genuine evangelical repentance.
The third ingredient is detestation. The soul must go a step further than mere sorrow; it must come to hate sin, to hate the very shadow of it, to hate the house where once sin and it were boon companions, to hate the bed of pleasure and all its glittering tapestries, yea, to hate the very garments spotted with the flesh. There is no repentance where a man can talk lightly of sin, much less where he can speak tenderly and lovingly of it. When sin cometh to thee delicately, like Agag, saying, “Surely the bitterness of death is past,” if thou hast true repentance it will rise like Samuel and hew thy Agag in pieces before the Lord. As long as thou harbour one idol in thy heart, God will never dwell there. Thou must break not only the images of wood and of stone, but of silver and of gold; yea, the golden calf itself, which has been thy chief idolatry, must be ground in powder and mingled in the bitter water of penitence, and thou must be made to drink thereof. There is such a loathing of sin in the soul of the true penitent that he cannot bear its name. If you were to compel him to enter its palaces he would be wretched. A penitent cannot bear himself in the house of the profane. He feels as if the house must fall upon him. In the assembly of the wicked he would be like a dove in the midst of ravenous kites. As well may the sheep lick blood with the wolf, as well may the dove be comrade at the vulture’s feast of carrion, as a penitent sinner revel in sin. Through infirmity he may slide into it, but through grace he will rise out of it and abhor even his clothes in which he has fallen into the ditch (Job 9:31). The sinner unrepentant, like the sow, wallows in the mire; but the penitent sinner, like the swallow, may sometimes dip his wings in the limpid pool of iniquity, but he is aloft again, twittering forth with the chattering of the swallow most pitiful words of penitence, for he grieves that he should have so debased himself and sinned against his God. My hearer, if thou dost not so hate thy sins as to be ready to give them all up-if thou art not willing now to hang them on Haman’s gallows a hundred and twenty cubits high-if thou canst not shake them off from thee as Paul did the viper from his hand, and shake it into the fire with detestation, then, I say, thou knowest not the grace of God in truth; for if thou lovest sin thou lovest neither God nor thyself, but thou choose thine own damnation. Thou art in friendship with death and in league with hell; God deliver thee from this wretched state of heart, and bring thee to detest thy sin.
There lacks one more ingredient yet. We have had illumination, humiliation, and detestation. There must be another thing, namely, a thorough transformation, or-
“Repentance is to leave
The sins we loved before,
And show that we in earnest grieve
By doing so no more.”
The penitent man reforms his outward life. The reform is not partial, but in heart, it is universal and complete. Infirmity may mar it, but grace will always be striving against human infirmity, and the man will hate and abandon every false way. Tell me not, deceptive tradesman, that you have repented of your sin while lying placards are still upon your goods. Tell me not, thou who wast once a drunkard, that thou hast turned to God while yet the cup is dear to thee, and thou canst still wallow in it by excess. Come not to me and say I have repented, thou avaricious wretch, whilst thou art yet grinding thine almost cent, per cent, out of some helpless tradesman whom thou hast taken like a spider in thy net. Come not to me and say thou are forgiven, when thou still harbour revenge and malice against thy brother, and speaketh against thine own mother’s son. Thou lie to thine own confusion. Thy face is as the whore’s forehead that is brazen, if thou dare to say “I have repented,” when thine arms are up to the elbow in the filth of thine iniquity. Nay, man, God will not forgive your lusts while you are still revelling in the bed of your uncleanness. And do you imagine he will forgive your drunken feasts while you are still sitting at the glutton’s table! Shall he forgive your profanity when your tongue is still quivering with an oath? Think you that God shall forgive your daily transgressions when you repeat them again, and again, and again, wilfully plunging into the mire? He will wash thee, man, but he will not wash thee for the sake of permitting thee to plunge in again and defile thyself once more. “Well,” do I hear you say, “I do feel that such a change as that has taken place in me.” I am glad to hear it, my dear sir; but I must ask you a further question. Divine transformation is not merely in act but in the very soul; the new man not only does not sin as he used to do, but he does not want to sin as he used to do. The flesh-pots of Egypt sometimes send up a sweet smell in his nostrils, and when he passes by another man’s house, where the leek, and garlic, and onion are steaming in the air, he half wishes to go back again to his Egyptian bondage, but in a moment he checks himself, saying, “No, no; the heavenly manna is better than this; the water out of the rock is sweeter than the waters of the Nile, and I cannot return to my old slavery under my old tyrant.” There may be insinuations of Satan, but his soul rejects them, and agonizes to cast them out. His very heart longs to be free from every sin, and if he could be perfect he would. There is not one sin he would spare. If you want to give him pleasure, you need not ask him to go to your haunt of debauchery; it would be the greatest pain to him you could imagine. It is not only his customs and manners, but his nature that is changed. You have not put new leaves on the tree, but there is a new root to it. It is not merely new branches, but there is a new trunk altogether, and new sap, and there will be new fruit as the result of this newness. A glorious transformation is wrought by a gracious God. His penitence has become so real and so complete that the man is not the man he used to be. He is a new creature in Christ Jesus. If you are renewed by grace, and were to meet your old self, I am sure you would be very anxious to get out of his company. “No,” say you, “no, sir, I cannot accompany you.” “Why, you used to swear”! “I cannot now.” “Well, but,” says he, “you and I are very near companions.” “Yes, I know we are, and I wish we were not. You are a deal of trouble to me every day. I wish I could be rid of you for ever.” “But,” says Old Self, “you used to drink very well.” “Yes, I know it. I know thou didst, indeed, Old Self. Thou couldst sing a song as merrily as any one. Thou wast ringleader in all sorts of vice, but I am no relation of thine now. Thou art of the old Adam, and I of the new Adam. Thou art of thine old father, the devil; but I have another-my Father, who is in heaven.” I tell you, brethren, there is no man in the world you will hate so much as your old self, and there will be nothing you will so much long to get rid of as that old man who once was dragging you down to hell, and who will try his hand at it over and over again every day you live, and who will accomplish it yet, unless that divine grace which has made you a new man shall keep you a new man even to the end.
Good Rowland Hill, in his “Village Dialogues,” gives the Christian, whom he describes in the first part of the book, the name of Thomas Newman. Ah! and every-man who goes to heaven must have the name of new-man. We must not expect to enter there unless we are created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. I have thus, as best I could, feeling many and very sad distractions in my own mind, endeavoured to explain the essentials of true repentance-illumination, humiliation, detestation, transformation. The endings of the words, though they are long words may commend them to your attention and assist you to retain them. III. And now, with all brevity, let me notice, in the third place, the COMPANIONS of true repentance. Her first companion is faith. There was a question once asked by the old Puritan divines-Which was first in the soul, Faith or Repentance? Some said that a man could not truly repent of sin until he believed in God, and had some sense of a Saviour’s love. Others said a man could not have faith till he had repented of sin; for he must hate sin before he could trust Christ. So a good old minister who was present made the following remark: “Brethren,” said he, “I don’t think you can ever settle this question. It would be something like asking whether, when an infant is born, the circulation of the blood, or the beating of the pulse can be first observed”? Said he, “It seems to me that faith and repentance are simultaneous. They come at the same moment. There could be no true repentance without faith. There never was yet true faith without sincere repentance.” We endorse that opinion. I believe they are like the Siamese twins; they are born together, and they could not live asunder, but must die if you attempt to separate them. Faith always walks side by side with his weeping sister, true Repentance. They are born in the same house at the same hour, and they will live in the same heart every day, and on your dying bed, while you will have faith on the one hand to draw the curtain of the next world, you will have repentance, with its tears, as it lets fall the curtain upon the world from which you are departing. You will have at the last moment to weep over your own sins, and yet you shall see through that tear the place where tears are washed away. Some say there is no faith in heaven. Perhaps there is not. If there be none, then there will be no repentance, but if there be faith there will be repentance, for where faith lives, repentance must live with it. They are so united, so married and allied together, that they never can be parted, in time or in eternity. Hast thou, then, faith in Jesus? Does thy soul look up and trust thyself in his hands? If so, then hast thou the repentance that needeth not to be repented of.
There is another sweet thing which always goes with repentance, just as Aaron went with Moses, to be spokesman for him, for you must know that Moses was slow of speech, and so is repentance. Repentance has fine eyes, but stammering lips. In fact, it usually happens that repentance speaks through her eyes and cannot speak with her lips at all, except her friend-who is a good spokesman-is near; he is called, Mr. Confession. This man is noted for his open breastedness. He knows something of himself, and he tells all that he knows before the throne of God.
Confession keeps back no secrets. Repentance sighs over the sin-confession tells it out. Repentance feels the sin to be heavy within-confession plucks it forth and indicts it before the throne of God. Repentance is the soul in travail-confession delivers it. My heart is ready to burst, and there is a fire in my bones through repentance-confession gives the heavenly fire a vent, and my soul flames upward before God. Repentance, alone, hath groaning which cannot be uttered-confession is the voice which expresses the groans. Now then, hast thou made confession of thy sin-not to man, but to God? If thou hast, then believe that thy repentance cometh from him, and it is a godly sorrow that needeth not to be repented of.
Holiness is evermore the bosom friend of penitence. Fair angel, clad in pure white linen, she loves good company and will never stay in a heart where repentance is a stranger. Repentance must dig the foundations, but holiness shall erect the structure, and bring forth the top-stone. Repentance is the clearing away of the rubbish of the past temple of sin; holiness builds the new temple which the Lord our God shall inherit. Repentance and desires after holiness never can be separated.
Yet once more-wherever repentance is, there cometh also with it, peace. As Jesus walked upon the waters of Galilee, and said, “Peace, be still,” so peace walks over the waters of repentance, and brings quiet and calm into the soul. If thou wouldst shake the thirst of thy soul, repentance must be the cup out of which thou shalt drink, and then sweet peace shall be the blessed effect. Sin is such a troublesome companion that it will always give thee the heartache till thou hast turned it out by repentance, and then thy heart shall rest and be still. Sin is the rough wind that tears through the forest, and sways every branch of the trees to and fro; but after penitence hath come into the soul the wind is hushed, and all is still, and the birds sing in the branches of the trees which just now creaked in the storm. Sweet peace repentance ever yields to the man who is the possessor of it. And now what sayest thou my hearer-to put each point personally to thee-hast thou had peace with God? If not, never rest till thou hast had it, and never believe thyself to be saved till thou feel thyself to be reconciled. Be not content with the mere profession of the head, but ask that the peace of God which passeth all understanding, may keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.
IV. And now I come to my fourth and last point, namely, the EXCELLENCIES of repentance.
I shall somewhat surprise you, perhaps, if I say that one of the excellencies of repentance lies in its pleasantness. “Oh”! you say, “but it is bitter”! Nay, say I, it is sweet. At least, it is bitter when it is alone, like the waters of Marah; but there is a tree called the cross, which if thou canst put into it, it will be sweet, and thou wilt love to drink of it. At a school of mutes who were both deaf and dumb, the teacher put the following question to her pupils:-“What is the sweetest emotion”? As soon as the children comprehended the question, they took their slates and wrote their answers. One girl in a moment wrote down “Joy.” As soon as the teacher saw it, she expected that all would write the same, but another girl, more thoughtful, put her hand to her brow, and she wrote “Hope.” Verily, the girl was not far from the mark. But the next one, when she brought up her slate, had written “Gratitude,” and this child was not wrong. Another one, when she brought up her slate, had written “Love,” and I am sure she was right. But there was one other who had written in large characters,-and as she brought up her slate the tear was in her eye, showing she had written what she felt,-“Repentance is the sweetest emotion.” And I think she was right. Verily, in my own case, after that long drought, perhaps longer than Elisha’s three years in which the heavens poured forth no rain, when I saw but one tear of penitence coming from my hard, hard soul-it was such a joy! There have been times when you know you have done wrong, but when you could cry over it you have felt happy. As one weeps for his firstborn, so have you wept over your sin, and in that very weeping you have had your peace and your joy restored. I am a living witness that repentance is exceeding sweet when mixed with divine hope, but repentance without hope is hell. It is hell to grieve for sin with the pangs of bitter remorse, and yet to know that pardon can never come, and mercy never be vouchsafed. Repentance, with the cross before its eyes, is heaven itself; at least, if not heaven, it is so next door to it, that standing on the wet threshold I may see within the pearly portals, and sing the song of the angels who rejoice within. Repentance, then, has this excellency, that it is very sweet to the soul which is made to lie beneath its shadow.
Besides this excellency, it is specially sweet to God as well as to men. “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” When St. Augustine lay a-dying, he had this verse always fixed upon the curtains, so that as often as he awoke, he might read it-“A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” When you despise yourselves, God honours you; but as long as you honour yourselves, God despises you. A whole heart is a scentless thing; but when it is broken and bruised, it is like that precious spice which was burned as holy incense in the ancient tabernacle. When the blood of Jesus is sprinkled on them, even the songs of the angels, and the vials full of odours sweet that smoke before the throne of the Most High, are not more agreeable to God than the sighs, and groans, and tears of the broken-hearted soul. So, then, if thou wouldest be pleasing with God, come before him with many and many a tear:
“To humble souls and broken hearts
God with his grace is ever nigh;
Pardon and hope his love imparts,
When men in deep contrition lie.
He tells their tears, he counts their groans,
His Son redeems their souls from death;
His Spirit heals their broken bones,
They in his praise employ their breath.”
John Bunyan, in his “Siege of Mansoul,” when the defeated townsmen were seeking pardon, names Mr. Wet-eyes as the intercessor with the king. Mr. Wet-eyes-good Saxon word! I hope we know Mr. Wet-eyes, and have had him many times in our house, for if he cannot intercede with God, yet Mr. Wet-eyes is a great friend with the Lord Jesus Christ, and Christ will undertake his case, and then we shall prevail. So have I set forth, then, some, but very few, of the excellencies of repentance. And now, my dear hearers, have you repented of Sin? Oh, impenitent soul, if thou dost not weep now, thou wilt have to weep for ever. The heart that is not broken now, must be broken for ever upon the wheel of divine vengeance. Thou must now repent, or else for ever smart for it. Turn or burn-it is the Bible’s only alternative. If thou repentest, the gate of mercy stands wide open. Only the Spirit of God bring thee on thy knees in self-abasement, for Christ’s cross stands before thee, and he who bled upon it bids thee look at him. Oh, sinner, obey the divine bidding. But, if your heart be hard, like that of the stubborn Jews in the days of Moses, take heed, lest,-
“The Lord in vengeance dressed,
Shall lift his head and swear,-
You that despised my promised rest,
Shall have no portion there.”
At any rate, sinner, if thou wilt not repent, there is one here who will, and that is myself. I repent that I could not preach to you with more earnestness this morning, and throw my whole soul more thoroughly into my pleading with you. the Lord God, whom I serve, is my constant witness that there is nothing I desire so much as to see your hearts broken on account of sin; and nothing has gladdened my heart so much as the many instances lately vouchsafed of the wonders God is doing in this place. There have been men who have stepped into this Hall, who had never entered a place of worship for a score years, and here the Lord has met with them, and I believe, if I could speak the word, there are hundreds who would stand up now, and say, “‘Twas here the Lord met with me. I was the chief of sinners; the hammer struck my heart and broke it, and now it has been bound up again by the finger of divine mercy, and I tell it unto sinners, and tell it to this assembled congregation, there have been depths of mercy found that have been deeper than the depths of my iniquity.” This day there will be a soul delivered; this morning there will be, I do not doubt, despite my weakness, a display of the energy of God, and the power of the Spirit; some drunkard shall be turned from the error of his ways; some soul, who was trembling on the very jaws of hell, shall look to him who is the sinner’s hope, and find peace and pardon, at this very hour. So be it, O Lord, and thine shall be the glory, world without end.