REPORTS OF A SERIES OF ADDRESSES DELIVERED AT JAMES'S HALL, LONDON, W., During 1881,
MRS. CATHERINE BOOTH.
INTRODUCTION BY DANIEL STEELE, D.D.
In giving this volume to our American readers, we are assured that we are doing a special favor to all the lovers of "Christianity in earnest." "Aggressive Christianity," from the same talented author, has met with unusual favor, and has been the means of much good. We are confident that the present volume is in all respects equal to the former, and that no one can read it without great spiritual profit.
The Introduction, by Dr. Daniel Steele, is a forcible presentation of the main doctrines of the book, and is creditable to the head and heart of the writer, and a commendation which all intelligent readers will highly esteem.
Our object in publishing these sermons, is, that their perusal may kindle a flame of revival in the hearts of believers, which may result in many turning unto the Lord.
MCDONALD & GILL
In presenting another volume of reports of my Addresses, I have only to repeat what I have said with respect to similar books before— Read, for the sake of getting more light and more blessing to your soul, and you will, I trust, partake of the good which many have professed to receive at the West-End services, wherein most of these words were first spoken.
I am well aware that, in such imperfect reports of, for the most part, extemporaneous utterances, often most hurriedly corrected, there may be found abundant ground for criticism; but, if this book may be the means of leading only a few souls to devote themselves more fully to God and to the salvation of men, I shall be more than compensated for any unfriendly criticism with which it may meet.
I have not sought to please any but the Lord, and to His fatherly loving-kindness I commend both the book and its readers.
London, Nov. 10, 1881.
The sermons of Mrs. Booth already re-published under the title of "Aggressive Christianity," came to American Christians as a tonic to their weakness, and a stimulant to their inertness.
The sermons in the present volume are a much-needed prophylactic, a safeguard against several practical errors in dealing with souls; errors which lead them into Egyptian darkness, instead of the marvelous light.
The sermon on Repentance is a most faithful showing up of spurious repentance, the vain substitute for a downright abandonment of every form of sin, and right-about facing towards the Lord. In directness and point, it is a model for earnest revival preaching,—rather, for all preaching to unsaved souls, outside the church, or within it. All of these will be found in some subterfuge, which must be ruthlessly torn down, before it will be abandoned for the cleft Rock.
The sermon on Saving Faith is next in order. The disastrous consequences of what, for the want of a better description, maybe styled an Antinomian faith, an unrepentant assent of the intellect to the historic facts of the Gospel, which too many evangelists and other religious teachers are calling saving faith, are clearly set forth and plainly labeled, POISON. This spurious trust in Christ following a superficial repentance, which has never felt the desperate sinfulness and real misery of sin, has furnished our churches with a numerous class of members, aptly described by the prophet Micah: "The sin of Israel is great and unrepented of, yet they will lean on the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us?" We are convinced that much of the work of the faithful and pungent preacher, who preaches with his eye fixed on the great white throne and the descending Judge, is to dislodge professors from their imaginary trust in a Saviour who does not save them, and probe deeply their hearts festering with sin, which have been hastily pronounced healed, "slightly healed." Many of us have incautiously said to awakened souls, "Only believe," before we have thrust the heart through and through with the sword of God's law. We have dismissed God's schoolmaster. The law, like the slave charged with the task of leading the boy to school, and of committing him to the teacher, we have thought to be too harsh and severe for our sentimental age, and have unwisely discharged, and have assumed its office of a paidagogos to Christ, and we have missed the way, and misled a priceless soul. God have mercy on us, and give us humility, as He gave Apollos, to be set right by an anointed woman!
After her timely correction of erroneous teachings on faith, Mrs. Booth proceeds, pruning-knife in hand, to cut away from the tree of modern Christianity the poisonous fungus of a "spurious charity." Her four sermons on Charity are four beacons set on the rocks of counterfeit Christian love. She sets forth several infallible tests by which genuine love may be distinguished from the devil's base imitation. Like the Epistles of St. John, these sermons are full of touchstones for testing love, that golden principle of the Christian life. It would be very profitable for all professors of that perfect love which casteth out all tormenting fear, to apply unflinchingly these touch-stones to themselves. They may find the word "perfection" taking on a meaning deeper, broader and higher than they had ever before conceived. Why should not our conception of Christian perfection steadily grow with the increase of our knowledge of God and of His holy law?
The sermon on The Conditions of Effectual Prayer, we commend to all Christians and to all seekers of Christ, who are mourning because their prayers do not prevail with God. In the clear light of this sermon they will find that the difficulty lies, either in the lack of fellowship with Jesus Christ, or of obedience to His commands, or in the absence from their hearts of the interceding Spirit, or in defective faith. In the discussion of these hindrances to prayer, the preacher lays open the heart, and with a skilful spiritual surgery, searches it to the very bottom. The incisiveness of her style, her courage and plain dealing with her hearers, tearing off the masks of sin and selfishness, the various guises in which these masquerade in many Christian hearts and obstruct their access to a throne of grace, remind us of Dr. Finney's unsparing exposure and condemnation of these foes to Christian holiness, and of John Wesley's cutting up by the roots "Sin in Believers."
In this sermon Mrs. Booth turns her attention to another phase of faith and of practical error in the guidance of souls to Christ. Her views on this vexed question are not extreme but philosophical and scriptural. She teaches that God has made the bestowment of salvation simultaneous with the exercise of faith, and that "telling a person to believe he is saved, before he is saved, is telling him to believe a lie." But she insists that the act of faith is put forth with the special aid of the Holy Spirit giving an assurance that the blessing sought will be granted. This assurance, or earnest, given by the Spirit, becomes the basis on which the final act of faith rests, namely, "I believe that I receive." This corresponds with William Taylor's Divine "ascertainment of the fact of the sinner's surrender to God, and his acceptance of Christ," before justification. [Footnote: Election of Grace, pp. 38-42.] Both teachers agree with Wesley's analysis of faith which teaches that the fourth and last step, "He doth it," can be taken only by the special enabling power of the Holy Spirit, [Footnote: Sermons. Patience, Section 13; Scripture Way of Salvation, Section 17; and Whedon on Mark xi. 24.] All three locate the Divine efficiency before the declaration, "I believe that I receive," or "have received" (R. V.), making that declaration rest upon the perception of a Divine change within the consciousness. They all insist that saving faith is not a mere humanly moral exercise, but that power to believe with the heart descends from God, and that it must be waited for in prayer, and that it becomes in the believer a series of supernatural and spiritual acts, a habit of soul, at once the seed and fruit of the Divine life-stirring, uniting in itself the characters of penitent humility, self-renunciation, simple trust, and absolute obedience grounded in love. These teachers magnify the Divine element in faith. We look in vain in their writings for any such direction to a penitent as this, "Believe that you are saved, because, God says so in His Word," but rather believe that you are saved when you hear His Spirit crying, Abba, Father, in your heart.
Many modern teachers fall into the error of treating saving faith as an unaided intellectual act to be performed, at will, at any time. It is rather a spiritual act possible only when prompted by the Holy Spirit, who incites to faith only when He sees true repentance and a hearty surrender to God. Then the Spirit reveals Christ and assists to grasp Him. In the refutation of the high predestinarian doctrine that faith is an irresistible grace sovereignly bestowed upon the elect, there is great danger of falling into the opposite error, called Pelagianism, which makes saving faith an exercise which the natural man is competent to put forth without the help of the Holy Spirit. The real guilt of unbelief lies in that voluntary indifference toward Christ, and impenitence of heart, in which the Holy Spirit cannot inspire saving faith.
In our introduction to "Aggressive Christianity," we advertised, in behalf of the American churches, a universal want—Enthusiasm. In her brief Exeter-Hall address, Mrs. Booth discloses the source of the supply. Holiness is the well-spring of enthusiasm. Hence it is not a spring freshet, but an overflowing river of power in all its possessors, and, notably in the Salvation Army, bearing the unchurched masses of England on its bosom. A holy enthusiasm is contagious and conquering. We cannot touch the people with the icicle of logic; but they will not fail to bow to the scepter of glowing and joyful love. Few men can reason; all can feel. Enthusiasm and full salvation, like the Siamese twins, cannot be separated and live. The error of the modern pulpit is that of the blacksmith hammering cold steel—a faint impression and huge labor. The baptism of fire softening our assemblies would lighten the preacher's toil and multiply its productiveness.
The four addresses on Holiness are hortatory rather than argumentative or exegetical. They are spiritual cyclones. It is difficult to see how any Christian could withstand these impassioned appeals to make what Joseph Cook calls "an affectionate, total, irreversible, eternal, self-surrender to Jesus Christ, as both Saviour and Lord," in order to attain that "perfect similarity of feeling with God," wherein evangelical perfection consists.
It gives me great pleasure to have some humble part in echoing across the American continent these glowing utterances from the lips of this modern Deborah, the Christian prophetess raised up by God for the deliverance of His people from captivity to worldliness and religious apathy. "Would God that all the Lord's people," men and women, "were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!"
"Shall we the Spirit's course restrain, Or quench the heavenly fire? Let God His messengers ordain, And whom He will inspire! Blow as He list, the Spirit's choice Of instruments we bless: We will, if Christ be preached, rejoice, And wish the word success."
Reading, Mass., Nov. 23, 1883.
CHARITY AND REBUKE
CHARITY AND CONFLICT
CHARITY AND LONELINESS
CONDITIONS OF EFFECTUAL PRAYER
THE PERFECT HEART
HOW TO WORK FOR GOD WITH SUCCESS
ENTHUSIASM AND FULL SALVATION
HINDRANCES TO HOLINESS
ADDRESSES ON HOLINESS
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of Heaven is at band.—MATT. iii. 2.
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.—MATT. iv. 17.
"Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Qentiles, that they should repent and torn to God, and do works meet for repentance."—ACTS xxvi. 19,20.
In the mouths of three witnesses—John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the Apostle Paul—this word shall be established, namely, that repentance is an indispensable condition of entering the kingdom of God.
People generally are all at sea oh this subject, as though insisting that repentance were an arbitrary arrangement on the part of God. I believe God has made human salvation as easy as the Almighty, Infinite mind could make it. But there is a necessity in the case, that we should "repent and turn to God." It is just as necessary that my feelings be changed and brought to repentance towards God, as it is that the wicked, disobedient boy, should have his feelings brought back into harmony with his father before he can be forgiven. Precisely the same laws of mind are brought into action in both cases, and there is the same necessity in both.
If there is any father here who has a prodigal son, I ask, How is it that you are not reconciled to your son? You love him—love him intensely. Probably you are more conscious of your love for him than for any other of your children. Your heart yearns over him every day; you pray for him night and day; you dream of him by night; your bowels yearn over your son, and you say, with David, "Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son." Why are you not reconciled? Why not pat him on the head, or stroke his face, and say, "My dear lad, I am well pleased with you. I love you complacently; I give you my approbation?" Why are you always reproving him? Why are you obliged to hold him at arm's length? Why can you not live on amicable terms with him? Why can you not have him come in and out, and live with you on the same terms as the affectionate, obedient daughter? "Oh!" you say, "the case is different; I cannot. It is not, 'I would not;' but, 'I cannot.' Before that can possibly be, the boy's feelings must be changed towards me. He is at war with me; he has mistaken notions of me; he thinks I am hard, and cruel, and exacting, and severe. I have done all a father could do, but he sees things differently, to what they are, and has harbored these hard feelings against me until he hates me, and will go on in defiance of my will." You say, "It is a necessity that, as a wise and righteous father, I must insist on a change in him. I cannot receive him as a son, till he comes to my feet. He must confess his sin, and ask me to forgive him. Then, oh! how gladly will my fatherly affection gush out! How I should run to meet him, and put my arms around his neck! but there is a 'cannot' in the case." Just so. It is not that He does not love you, sinner; it is not that the great, benevolent heart of God has not, as it were, wept tears of blood over you; it is not that He would not put His loving arms around you this moment, if you would only come to His feet, and confess you were wrong, and seek His pardon; but, otherwise, He may not—He cannot. The laws of His universe are against Him doing so. The good, it may be, of millions of immortal beings, is involved. He dare not, and He cannot, until there is a change of mind in you. You must repent. "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
Well, if repentance be an indispensable condition of salvation, let us glance at it for a moment, and try to find out what repentance really is; and, oh! how full of confusion the world and the church are upon this subject! I say it, because I know it by converse with hundreds of people. May the Holy Spirit help us!
Well, first, repentance is not merely conviction of sin. Oh! if it only were, what a different world we should have to-night, for there are tens of thousands on whose hearts God's Spirit has done His office by convincing them of sin. I am afraid we should be perfectly alarmed, astounded, confounded, if we had any conception of the multitudes whom God has convinced of sin, as He did Agrippa and Festus. Oh! I could not tell you the numbers of people, who, in our anxious meetings, have grasped my hand, and said, "Oh! what would I give to feel as I once felt! There was a time, fifteen, or seventeen, or twenty years ago," and so on, "when I was so deeply convinced of sin that I could scarcely sleep, or eat—that I could find no rest; but, instead of going on till I found peace, I got diverted, cooled down, and now, I feel as hard as a stone." I am afraid there are tens of thousands in this condition—once convinced of sin.
There are thousands of others, who are convinced now. They say, "Yes, it is true what the minister says. I know I ought to lay down the weapons of my warfare against God; I know I ought to cut off this right hand, and pluck out this right eye." They are convinced of sin, but they go no further. That is not repentance. They live this week as they did last. There is no response to the Spirit; they resist the Holy Ghost.
Neither is repentance mere sorrow for sin. I have seen people weep bitterly, and writhe and struggle, but yet hug on to their idols, and in vain you try to shake them from them. Oh! if Jesus Christ would have saved them with those idols, they would have no objection at all. If they could have got through the strait gate with this one particular idol, they would have gone through long since; but to part with that—that is another thing. Such people will weep like your stubborn child, when you want him to do something which he does not want to do. He will cry, and when you apply the rod he will cry harder, but he will not yield. When he yields, he becomes a penitent; but, until he does, he is merely a convicted sinner. When God applies the rod of His Spirit, the rod of His providence, the rod of His Word, sinners will cry, and wince, and whine, and make you believe they are praying, and want to be saved, but all the while they are holding their necks as stiff as iron. They will not submit. The moment they submit, they become true penitents, and get saved. There is no mistake more common than for people to suppose they are penitents when they are not. There are some of you in this condition, I know. I am afraid you are quite mistaken—you are not penitents. God is true though every man should be a liar; and, if you had sought, as you say you have, and perhaps, think you have; if you had been sincere and honest with God, you would have been saved years ago. Oh! may God, the Holy Spirit, help you to come out and be HONEST. That is what God wants—that you be honest. "Oh," says He, "why cover ye my altar with tears, and bring your vain oblations? Just be honest, and I will be honest with you and bless you; but while you come before Me and weep and profess, and bring the halt, and the maimed, and the blind, a curse be upon you." He looks at you afar off. Be honest. Repentance is not mere sorrow for sin. You may be ever so sorry, and all the way down to death be hugging on to some forbidden possession, as was the young ruler. That is not repentance.
Neither is repentance a promise that you will forsake sin in the future. Oh! if it were, there would be many penitents here to-night. There is scarcely a poor drunkard that does not promise, in his own mind, or to his poor wife, or somebody, that he will forsake his cups. There is scarcely any kind of a sinner that does not continually promise that he will give up his sin, and serve God, but he does not do it.
Then what is repentance? Repentance is simply renouncing sin—turning round from darkness to light—from the power of Satan unto God. This is giving up sin in your heart, in purpose, in intention, in desire, resolving that you will give up every evil thing, and DO IT NOW. Of course, this involves sorrow, for how will any sane man turn himself round from a given course into another, if he does not repent having taken that course? It implies, also, hatred of, sin. He hates the course he formerly took, and turns round from it. He is like the prodigal, when he sat in the swine-yard amongst the husks and the filth, he fully resolved, and at last he acts. He went, and that was the test of his penitence! He might have sat resolving and promising till now, if he had lived as long, and he would never have got the father's kiss, the father's welcome, if he had not started; but he went. He left the filth, the swine-yard, the husks—he trampled them under his feet; he left the citizen of that country, and gave up all his subterfuges and excuses, and went to his father honestly, and said, "I have sinned!" which implied a great deal more in his language then than it does in ours now. "I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee;" and then comes the proof of his submission, "and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants"—put me in a stable, or set me to clean the boots, so that I can be in thy family and have thy smile. That is repentance—Jesus Christ's own beautiful illustration of true penitence. Have you done that? Have you forsaken the accursed thing? Have you cut off that particular thing which the Holy Spirit has revealed to you? Is the "but" the hindrance that keeps you out of the Kingdom? You know what it is, and you will never get saved until you renounce it. Submission is the test of penitence. My child may be willing to do a hundred and fifty other things, but, if he is not willing to submit on the one point of controversy, he is a rebel, and remains one until he yields.
Now, here is just the difference between a spurious and a real repentance. I am afraid we have thousands in our churches who had a spurious repentance: they were convinced of sin—they were sorry for it; they wanted to live a better life, to love God in a sort of general way; but they skipped over the real point of controversy with God; they hid it from their pastor, perhaps, and from the deacons, and from the people who talked with them.
Now, I say, Abraham might have been willing to have given up every other thing that he possessed; but, if he had not been willing to give up Isaac, all else would have been useless. It is your Isaac God wants. You have got an Isaac, just as the young ruler had his possessions. You have got something that you are holding on to, that the Holy Spirit says you must let go, and you say, "I can't." Very well; then you must stop outside the kingdom. I beseech you, do not deceive yourselves by supposing that you repent, for you do not; but, oh! my dear friends, let me beseech you to repent. The apostle says, "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men;" and this is, I believe, the greatest work of the ministry. To do what? To persuade men to submit. We are constantly talking to thousands of people who know just what God wants of them. We cannot bring many of them any new light or new Gospel. They know all about it. They used to tell me that so often, that I longed for a congregation of heathen, which I have found since then. Consequently, when they hear the Gospel, like the publicans and sinners of old, they go into the kingdom, while such as some of you who are the natural children of the kingdom, are shut out, because when they hear they receive, and submit, and obey, while you stand outside and hold on to your idols, and reason, and quibble, and reject! My dear friends, let me persuade you to trample under foot that idol, to tear down that refuge of lies, and to come to God honestly, and say, "Lord, here I am, to be a servant, to be nothing, to do anything, to suffer anything. I know I shall be happier with Thy smile and Thy blessing than all these evil things now make me without Thee." When you come to a full surrender, my friends, you will get what you have been seeking, some of you, for years.
But then another difficulty comes in, and people say, "I have not the power to repent." Oh! yes, you have. That is a grand mistake. You have the power, or God would not command it. You can repent. You can this moment lift up your eyes to Heaven, and say, with the prodigal, "Father, I have sinned, and I renounce my sin." You may not be able to weep—God nowhere requires or commands that; but you are able, this very moment, to renounce sin, in purpose, in resolution, in intention. Mind, don't confound the renouncing of the sin, with the power of saving yourself from it. If you renounce it, Jesus will come and save you from it. Like the man with the withered hand—Jesus intended to heal that man. Where was the power to come from to heal him? From Jesus, of course. The benevolence, the love, that prompted that healing, all came from Jesus; but Jesus wanted a condition. What was it? The response of the man's will; and so He said, "Stretch forth thy hand." If he had been like some of you, he would have said, "What an unreasonable command! You know I cannot do it—I cannot." Some of you say that; but I say you can, and you will have to do it, or you will be lost. What did Jesus want? He wanted that, "I will, Lord," inside the man—the response of his will. He wanted him to say, "Yes, Lord;" and, the moment he said that, Jesus supplied strength, and he stretched it forth, and you know what happened.
Don't look forward, and say, "I shall not have strength;" that is not your matter—that is His. He will hold you up;—He is able, when you once commit yourself to Him. Now then, say, "I will." Never mind what you suffer—it shall be done. He will pour in the oil and balm. His glorious, blessed presence will do more for you in one hour, than all your struggling, praying, and wrestling have done all these weary years. He will lift you up out of the pit. You are in the mire now, and the more you struggle the more you sink; but He will lift you out of it, and put your feet on the rock, and then you will stand firm. Stretch out your withered hand, whatever it may be;—say, "I will, Lord." You have the power, and mind, you have the obligation, which is universal and immediate. God "now commandeth all men everywhere to repent," and to believe the Gospel. What a tyrant He must be if He commands that, and yet He knows you have not the power!
Now, do you repent? Mind the old snare. Not, do you weep? The feeling will come after the surrender.
Now, do not say, "I do not feel enough." Do you feel enough to be willing to forsake your sin? that is the point. Any soul who does not repent enough to forsake his sin, is not a penitent at all! When you repent enough to forsake your sin, that moment your repentance is sincere, and you may take hold of Jesus with a firm grasp. You have a right to appropriate the promise, then it is "look and live." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
Will you come to that point now? Don't begin making an excuse. Now!—all men! everywhere!—NOW! Oh! my friend, if you had done that ten years ago! You have been accumulating sin, condemnation, and wrath ever since. God commanded you these ten years to repent, and believe the Gospel, and here you are yet. How many sermons have you heard?—invitations rejected? How much blessed persuasion and reasoning of the Holy Spirit have you resisted?—how much of the grace of God have you received in vain? I tremble to think what an accumulated load of abused privilege, lost opportunity, and wasted influence, such people will have to give an account of. Talk about hell!—the weight of this will be hell enough. You don't seem to think anything of the way you treat God. Oh! people are very much awake to any evil they do to their fellow-men. They can much more easily see the sin of ruining or injuring their neighbors than injuring the great God; but He says, "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me." Do you not see; the awful weight of condemnation that comes upon you for putting off, rejecting, resisting, vascilating, halting, while He says, Now—now? He has had a right to every breath you have drawn, to all your influence, every hour, of every day of all your years. Is it not time you ended that controversy? He may do with you as He did with such people once before—swear in His wrath that you shall not enter into His rest. Are you not provoking Him as they provoked Him? Oh! my friend, be persuaded now to repent. Let your sin go away, and come to the feet of Jesus. For your own sake be persuaded. For the peace, the joy, the power, the glory, the gladness of living a life of consecration to God, and service to your fellow-men, yield; but most of all, for the love He bears you, submit.
A great, rough man (stricken down), said to my husband, a few weeks ago, when he looked up to the place where other people were being saved, "Mr. Booth, I would not go there for a hundred pounds!" My husband whispered, "Will you go there for love?" and, after a minute's hesitation, the man, brushing the great tears away, rose up, and followed him.
Will you go there for love—the love of Jesus!—the great love wherewith He loved you and gave Himself for you? Will you, for the great yearning with which your Father has been following you all these years—for His love's sake, will you come? Go down at His feet and submit. The Lord help you! Amen.
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.—ACTS xvi. 30,31.
This is one of the most abused texts in the Bible, and one which, perhaps, has been made to do quite as much work for the devil as for God. Let every saint present, ask in faith for the light of the Holy Ghost, while we try rightly to apply it. Let us enquire:—
1. Who are to believe? 2. When are they to believe? 3. How are they to believe?
I. Who are to believe? To whom does the Holy Spirit say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved?" Now mark, I answer, not to all sinners indiscriminately. And here is a grand mistake in a great deal of the teaching of this age—that these words are wrested from their explanatory connexion, and from numbers of other texts bearing on the same subject, and held up independently of all the conditions which must ever, and did ever, in the mind and practice of the Apostles, accompany them; indeed, it has only been within the last sixty or seventy years that this new gospel has sprung into existence, preaching indiscriminately to unawakened, unconverted, unrepentant sinners—"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." It seems to me, that great injury has been done to the cause of Christ by thus wrongly dividing the Word of truth, to say nothing of the unphilosophical character of such a course, for how can an unawakened, unconvicted, unrepentant sinner, believe? As soon might Satan believe. It is an utter impossibility. Thousands of these people say, "I do believe." My dear son, only a little time ago, on the top of an omnibus, was speaking to a man who was the worse for liquor, and using very improper language; trying to show him the danger of his evil, wicked course, as a transgressor of the law of God. "Oh!" said the man, "it is not by works, it is by faith, and I believe as much as you do." "Yes," said my son, "but what do you believe?" "Oh," he said, "I believe in Jesus Christ, and of course I shall be saved." That is a sample of thousands. I am meeting with them daily. They believe there was such a man as Jesus, and that He died for sinners, and for them, but as to the exercise of saving faith, they know no more about it than Agrippa or Felix, as is manifest when they come to die, for then, these very people are wringing their hands, tearing their hair, and sending for Christians to come and pray with them. If they had believed, why all this alarm and concern on the approach of death? They were only believers of the head, and not of the heart; that is, they were but theoretical believers in the facts recorded in this book, but not believers in the Scriptural sense, or their faith would have saved them. Now, we maintain that it is useless, and as unphilosophical as it is unscriptural, to preach "only believe" to such characters; and Christians have not done their duty, and have not discharged their responsibility to these souls, when they have told them that Jesus died for them, and that they are to believe in Him! They have a much harder work to do, and that is, "to open their eyes" to a sense of their danger, and make them, by the power of the Spirit, realize the dreadful truth that they are sinners, that they are sick, and then they will run to the Physician.
The eyes of the soul must be opened to such a realization of sin, and such an apprehension of the consequences of sin, as shall lead to an earnest desire to be saved from sin. God's great means of doing this is the law, as the schoolmaster, to drive sinners to receive Christ as their salvation.
There is not one case in the New Testament in which the apostles urged souls to believe, or in which a soul is narrated as believing, in which we have not good grounds to believe that these preparatory steps of conviction and repentance, had been taken. The only one was that of Simon the sorcerer. He was, as numbers of people are, in great religious movements, carried away by the influence of the meeting, and the example of those around him, and professed to believe. Doubtless, he did credit the fact that Jesus died on the cross. He received the facts of Christianity into his mind, and, in that sense, he became a believer—in the same sense that tens of thousands are in these days—and he was baptized. But when the testing point came, as to whose interests were paramount with him, his own or God's, then he manifested the true state of the case, as the apostle said, "I see thy heart is not right with God." And nobody is converted whose heart is not right with God! That is the test. If Simon had been converted, his heart would have been right with God and he would not have supposed the Holy Ghost could have been bought for money. And Paul added, "For I perceive that thou art still in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." And what further did he say to him? "Therefore, at once believe"? No; he did not. "Therefore, repent, and pray God, if, perhaps, the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee." Repent first! and then believe, and get this wickedness forgiven, and so we get a double lesson in the same passage. This Simon was the only person we have any record of, as believing, where there is not in the passage itself, taken with the context, a reasonable and rational evidence, that these preparatory steps of conviction and repentance, were taken before the teaching of faith, or the exercise and confession of faith. Simon had this faith of the head, but not of the heart, and, therefore, it ended in defeat and despair.
Some have written me this week that they had believed. They had been persuaded into a profession of faith, but no fruits followed. Ah! it was not the faith of the heart: it was the faith of the head—like that of Simon's—and it left you worse than it found you, and you have been groping and grovelling, ever since. But do not think that was real faith, and that therefore real faith has failed, but be encouraged to begin again, and repent. Try the real thing, for Satan always gets up a counterfeit. Therefore, don't go down in despair because the wrong kind of faith did not succeed. That shall not make the real faith of God of none effect—God forbid!
Look at one or two other cases—the three thousand in a day. Surely this is a scriptural illustration. Surely no one will call that anti-Gospel or legal. What was the first work Peter did? He drove the knife of God's convincing truth into their hearts, and made them cry out. He awoke them to the truth of their almost lost and damned condition, till they said, "What must we do to be saved?" They were so concerned, they were so pricked in their hearts, their eyes were so opened to the terrible consequences of their sin, that they cried aloud before the vast multitude, "Men and brethren, what must we do to be saved?" He convinced them of sin, and thus followed the order of God.
Again, the eunuch is often quoted as an illustration of faith; but what state of mind was he in? Was he a careless, unconvicted sinner? There he was—an Ethiopian, a heathen; but where had he been? To Jerusalem, to worship the true and living God, in the best way he knew, and as far as he understood; and then, what was he doing when Philip found him? He was not content with the mere worship of the temple, whistling a worldly tune on his way back. He was searching the Scriptures. He was honestly seeking after God, and the Holy Ghost always knows where such souls are; and He said to Philip, "Go, join thyself to that chariot: there is a man seeking after Me; there is a man whose heart is honestly set on finding Me. Go and preach Christ, and tell him to believe." That man would have sacrificed, or done, or lost anything, for salvation, and, as soon as Philip expounded the way of faith, he received it, of course, as all such souls will.
Saul, on his way to Damascus, is another instance. Jesus Christ was the preacher there, and surely, He could not be mistaken. His philosophy was sound. Where did He begin? What did He say to Saul? He saw there an honest-hearted man. Saul was sincere, so far as he understood, and if, in any case, there needed to be the immediate reception of Christ by faith, it was in his. But the Lord Jesus Christ did not say one word about faith. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?"—tearing the bandages of deception off his eyes, and letting him see the wickedness of his conduct. When Saul said, "Who art Thou, Lord?" He repeated the accusation. He did not come in with the oil of comfort; He did not plaster the wound up, and make it whole in a moment; but He said, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest." He ran the knife in again, and opened Paul's eyes wider, and his wounds wider, too, and sent him bleeding on to Damascus, where he was three days before he got the healing. He had to send for a poor human instrument, and he had to hear and obey his words, before the scales fell from his eyes, and before the pardon of his sins was pronounced, and the Holy Ghost came into his soul. I wonder what Paul was doing those three days! Not singing songs of thanksgiving and praise. That had to come. Oh! what do you think he was doing? He neither ate nor drank, and he was in the dark. What was he doing? No doubt he was praying. No doubt he was seeking after this Christ, who had spoken to him in the way. No doubt he was looking with horror upon his past life, and abjuring forever his accursed antagonism to Jesus Christ, and to His Gospel. Of course, he was bringing forth fruits meet for repentance, according to the Divine order—Acts xxvi.: And then came Ananias, and preached Christ unto him, and he believed unto salvation, and the scales fell off, and his mouth was filled with praise and thanksgiving to God.
Cornelius, is another instance, but what was the state of his mind and heart? We know that he feared God and wrought righteousness, as far as he was able. He gave alms to the people, and prayed day and night. That is more than some of you ever did, who live in the Gospel times. You never prayed all night about your souls. No wonder if you should lose them—not half a night, some of you. But Cornelius did—he was seeking God. He honestly wanted to know Him. He was willing, at all costs, to do His will: consequently, the Lord sent him the glorious message of the revelation of Jesus Christ.
I might go on multiplying instances, but I must stop. We have said enough to show who are to believe. Truly penitent sinners, and they only.
This text is to a repenting, enlightened, convicted sinner. Now, some of you are enlightened, convinced, and so wretched that you cannot sleep. You do repent. You are the very people, then, to whom this text comes—Believe. You are just in the condition of the gaoler.
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved," and now let us look what state of mind the gaoler was in. We see, from the whole narrative, how his eyes had been opened. The earthquake had done that. Some people need an earthquake before they get their eyes opened, and it has to be a loud one, too. The gaoler's eyes were opened, and he made the best use of his time. He was lashing their backs a little while before! Talk about a change—here was a change. "Sirs, what must I do to be saved? I am ready to do anything, only tell me what." And when a soul comes to that state of mind, he has nothing more to do but to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. And he came in, trembling, and went down on his knees, and washed their stripes. When you get to that state of mind, you will soon get saved. You will have nothing more to do but to believe. You will find it easy work, then.
II. When is a sinner to believe? When he repents? Here again I am going to answer some of your letters. One writes: "I am afraid I do not realize my sin sufficiently. I have no particular agony on account of sin, but I do see my whole life to have been one huge error and sin." There is nothing more common than for souls to delude themselves on this point of feeling. That gentleman confounds feeling with conviction. He thinks because he has not this extreme agony which some have, therefore he is not sufficiently convinced, while the Holy Ghost has opened his eyes to see that his whole life has been one huge error and sin. He is convinced that it has been all sin—not one isolated sin here and there abstracted from his life, but such a perception of his true character that he sees his whole life to have been sin. Surely, my friend, you are convinced. What else but the Holy Ghost could have shown you that? Now, the truly repentant soul first sees sin; secondly, he hates sin; thirdly, he renounces sin. Now, let me try you by each of these tests. Don't let Satan deceive you, and make you belie the exercises of your own mind. Face the facts, and when you have come to a conclusion, don't allow him to raise a controversy, but stick to your facts, and go on from them, or you will never get saved. Satan is an accuser of the brethren, and, I suppose, of the sisters too. I will be as honest and as searching with you as I possibly can. I will not spare the probe, but when we have probed and found the truth, stand on it, for Christ's sake, and don't let it go from under your feet, because Satan will try to cheat you out of your common sense, conscience, and convictions.
You see sin. An entirely unawakened soul does not see sin; that is, in its true character, in its heinousness, in its consequences. He admits that all people are sinners. Oh! yes; but he does not see the deadly, damning character of sin. He does not see what an evil and bitter thing sin is in itself. Now, the Holy Ghost alone can open the soul's eyes to see this. Without Him, all my preaching, or any other preaching, even the preaching of the angels, if they were permitted to preach, might go on to all eternity, and it would never convince of sin. If you see sin, it is the Holy Ghost who has opened your eyes. Praise Him, and take encouragement, my friend. If God has thus far dealt with you, and opened your eyes to see the character and consequences of sin, does it not augur well that He desires also to save you from it? He has opened your eyes in order that He may anoint them with eye-salve, and cause you to see light in His light.
Now, have you got thus far? You have told me that your life has been one great sin; others say, one particular form of sin. Whatever it is, if you are convinced of sin, it is the Holy Ghost who has convinced you; therefore, thank God, and take courage thus far.
Further, the true penitent hates sin; that is, his feelings towards sin are quite different to what they were in the past. There was a time when you could commit sin, almost without notice, without concern. People do not realize the great change that has taken place in them in this respect. They are brought gradually to it. Translate yourself back into your unawakened state. How did you live then? The very things that now cause you such distress, you practised every day, and they gave you no concern. The things that horrify you now, in the very thought or temptation to them, you then were daily practising without compunction. You had no hatred to, no dread of sin. You were willing bondslaves of Satan. Now, you are his unwilling slave. Then, you ran towards sin, now, he has to drive you, and when you fall, it is against your will. You hate sin. Now, mind, this is not being saved from it. This is not saying you have power to save yourself from it. In fact, this is the very difficulty personified by the apostle, when representing the ineffectual struggles of a convicted sinner. The things you would not, those you do, and the things you would, those you have not the power to do. Nevertheless, you desire to do them. There is the difference. Once you did not desire to do them, and, perhaps, those who did, were a pack of hypocrites, in your estimation. Now, you feel quite differently, and you struggle, and strive, and pray, and watch. Some of you have told me so, and yet you say, "I am again and again overcome." Of course you are, because you are not saved yet! But don't you see, you desire to be. You hate the sin which enthrals you. You struggle against it. You watch against it and you are not overcome half so frequently, perhaps, as you were before. People do not see what a great deal they owe to the convincing and preventing power of the Holy Spirit helping their infirmity, even now, to cut off and pluck out the right hand and the right eye, and bringing them up in a waiting attitude before God, like Cornelius and the eunuch. You, my hearers, some of you, are following after God. You are longing for deliverance, are striving against sin.
Take an another illustration. I don't mean that the soul has power to save itself from its internal maladies. That you will get when Jesus Christ saves you. But, I mean this: here is a soul convinced of sin. Here is a man who is daily addicted to drink. He is a drunkard. He becomes convinced of sin. Now, then, the Spirit of God says, "Will you give up the cup?" Then commences the struggle. Now, the question is, are you to teach that man that he is to go on drinking, and expect God to save him? Are you to keep putting before him faith, and telling him, "Oh! never mind your cup, but believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved"—or, are you to tell him, "you must put away your sin, cut off that right hand, pluck out that right eye, renounce that drink forever in your heart, in your purpose, in your will, and until you do, you cannot exercise faith on the Lord Jesus?"
Here is another person addicted to lying. He, when he is convinced of sin, sets a watch over his lips, that he may not offend with his mouth, and he does succeed in so guarding himself, or the Holy Spirit so helps him to guard himself, that he does not lie as he used. He is overcome now and then, because he has not yet found the power, but he is resolutely, and as far as his will is concerned, cutting off this outward sin, and waiting in the way of obedience for full deliverance and salvation.
There is a servant systematically robs his master's till. He goes to a religious meeting and is convinced. "Now," the Spirit of God says, "you must cut off that dishonesty. You cannot come to this meeting night after night pretending to want to be saved, while you are going on every day robbing your master! You must cut off that right hand, and give up that pilfering, and resolve that you will make restitution, and wait for Me in the way of bringing forth fruits meet for repentance." You see what I mean. Now, you are just here, some of you—you know you are. If you are addicted to any evil habit, it is just the same. Jesus Christ wants you to forswear that habit in your will, determination, and purpose. You have not the power to deliver yourself from it. You may struggle, as some of you tell me you are doing, but it overcomes you, and down you go. He knows all about that, but He approves of the struggle, and the effort, and the watchfulness, and the determination, and when He saves you, He will give you the power, and then you will stand and not fall, for He will hold you up.
Now you know that you go thus far, and you know that at this moment, if you had the power in yourself to extinguish the force of that evil habit over you forever, you would do it without another moment's hesitation. You say, "Oh yes, I would indeed. Would to God I had the power." That is repentance; that is genuine repentance. Now, what you cannot do for yourself, He meets you just where you stand, and says, "I will do it for you; I will break the power of that habit; I will deliver you out of the hands of the enemy; I will save you out of that bondage. Only throw your arm of faith around me, and I will lift you up; and I will inspire you with my Spirit; you shall stand in Me and by Me; and what you are now struggling to do for yourself, I will do for you."
Then you have got thus far that you hate sin? "Yes, I have." You have said it in your letters to me, and there are others saying it who have not written to me. "Yes," you are saying, "I desire to be saved from it. I would save myself this very instant if I could, and never sin again." Would you? Is not that repentance? What else is it, think you?
Suppose you had a disobedient and rebellious son, and he had been living irrespective of your law and will, wasting your money and trampling under foot your commandments. Suppose he comes back, he sees the error of his course. His eyes are opened, perhaps, by affliction, perhaps by want, or ten thousand other things. At any rate he sees it, and he comes home and says, "Oh! father, what a fool I have been; how wicked I have been. I see it all now—I did not see it when I was doing it. I see my evil course, my sins that made you mourn, and turned your hair grey. Oh! how I hate it all. I repent in dust and ashes. Father! I forsake it all! I come home to you!" What would you say? Would you say, "My son, you have not repented enough. Go! begone! Wait till you feel it more!" No, your paternal heart would go out in love and forgiveness, and you would put the kiss of your reconciling love upon his cheek. "Even so there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth!" as there would be joy in that family circle over the return of that wandering child.
But suppose that lad were to come and say, "Father, I do thus repent; I do thus forsake my sins; but there are some companions who will follow me so closely that I am afraid I shall again fall under their power, and there are some habits so terrible that I am afraid they will again conquer. Let me, then, be always by your side. You must strengthen me." What would you say? Would you not say, "Then, come in, my son; sit by me, live with me, and I will shield you—I will deliver you? Thou shalt never cross this threshhold without me. I will live with you; I will hold you up." And, as far as a human being could shield another, you would shield your son; he would never lack your sympathy or your strength day or night. Your Heavenly Father lacks neither sympathy or strength. His eye never sleeps. His arm never tires, and you have only to go and lay your helpless weakness on His Almighty strength by this one desperate leap of faith, and He will hold you up, even though there were a legion of devils around you.
Lastly, you renounce your sins, that is, in will, purpose, and determination. You say, "I never wish to grieve Him again." You sing it, and you feel it. "I never want to grieve Him any more;" and if you could only live without grieving Him, you would not much mind, even if it were in hell itself. Is not that penitence? You know it is. You renounce sin. You do not say, "Lord Jesus, save me with this right hand, with this right eye; Lord Jesus, save me with these forbidden things hanging about my skirts." No; you say, "Lord Jesus, save me out of them. Make me clean." That is penitence. You see it. You hate it. You renounce it. Now then, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, Holy Spirit, reveal the simple way of faith.
III. You say, "How am I to believe?" Some despairing soul asked me this in large letters, "How am I to believe?" How does a bride believe in her husband when she gives herself to him at the altar? She trusts him with herself. She believes in him. She makes a contract, and goes home, and lives as if it were true. That is faith. How do you trust your physician when you are sick, as you lay in repose or anguish upon your bed? You trust him with your case. You commit yourself to him. You believe in his skill, and obey his orders. Have faith like this in Jesus Christ.
Trust and obey, and expect that it is going to be with you according to His Word.
Instead of this, the faith of many people is like that of a person afflicted with some grievous malady. A friend tells him of a wonderful physician who has cured hundreds of such cases, and gives him abundant evidence that this doctor is able and willing to cure him, if he will only commit himself to his treatment. The sick man may thoroughly believe in the testimony of his friend about this physician, and yet, for some secret reason, he may refuse to put himself into his hands. Now, there are numbers like that with Jesus Christ. They believe He could cure the malady of sin on certain conditions. They believe He is no respecter of persons. They believe He has done it for hundreds as bad as they, and yet there is some reason why they do not trust Him. They hold back.
Now, what you want is to give your case into His hands, and say, "Lord Jesus, I come as Thou hast bid me, confessing and forsaking sin. If I could, I would jump out of it now and forever. Thou knowest I come renouncing it, but not having power to save myself from it; and now, Lord Jesus, Thou hast said, "Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out." I do come; Thou dost not cast me out; Thou dost take me; Thou dost receive me. Blessed, Holy Father, I give myself to Thee. I put my sins upon the glorious sacrifice of Thy Son. Thou hast said Thou wilt receive me, and pardon me for His sake. Now, I roll the guilty burden on His bleeding body, and I believe Thy promise, I trust Thee to be as good as Thy word." That is faith. "Oh!" said a dear lady, "I do not feel it." No: you must trust first. Mark, not believe you are saved, but believe that He does now save you.
"What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." That is the law of faith. Believe that ye receive it before you feel it; when you receive it then you shall feel it. God shall be true, and every man or devil who contradicts Him, a liar. Throw your arms around the Crucified. Take fast hold of the hand of the Son of God. Put your poor, guilty soul right at the foot of His cross, and say, "Thou dost receive; Thou dost pardon; Thou dost cleanse; Thou dost save;" and keep using the language of faith. I have seen numbers of souls step into liberty repeating these precious words in the first person, "He was wounded for my transgressions, He was bruised for my iniquities, the chastisement of my peace was laid upon Him, and by His stripes I am healed." Keep using the language of faith all the way home to-night. Go into your closet and say, "I am determined to be saved, if there is any such thing as salvation." Resolve that if you perish, you will perish in that room, at the foot of the cross, suing for pardon, and you will get it. I have never known a soul come to this who did not soon get saved. Get into the lifeboat. Put off from the old stranded wreck of your own righteousness or your own efforts; step right into the lifeboat of His broken, bleeding body. Take fast hold, and resolve that you will never let go until the answering Spirit comes into your soul, crying, "Abba, Father," and you shall know of a truth that you have passed from death unto life. The Lord help you. Amen.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.—1 COR. xiii. 13.
It must be a precious thing to be greater than faith, and greater than hope—it must, indeed, be precious!—and, just in proportion as things are valuable and precious amongst men, so much trouble and risk will human speculators take to counterfeit them. I suppose that in no department of roguery in this roguish world, has there been more time and ingenuity expended, than in making counterfeit money, especially bank notes. Just as wicked men have tried to imitate the most valuable of human productions for their own profit, so the devil has been trying to counterfeit God's most precious things from the beginning, and to produce something so like them that mankind at large should not see the difference, and, perhaps, in no direction has he been so successful as in producing a Spurious Charity.—I almost think he has got it to perfection in these days. I don't think he can very well improve on the present copy. This Charity—this love—is God's most precious treasure; it is dearer to His heart than all the vast domains of His universe—dearer than all the glorious beings He has created. So much so, that when some of the highest spirits amongst the angelic bands violated this love, He hurled them from the highest Heaven to the nethermost hell! Why? Not because He did not value those wonderful beings, but because He valued this love more. Because He saw that it was more important to the well-being of His universe to maintain the harmony of love in Heaven than to save those spirits who had allowed selfishness to interfere with it. So our Lord says, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from Heaven."
The day is coming when He will behold all the dire progeny of this first rebellion fall also. Haste, happy day!
But, let us look for a few minutes at this precious, beautiful Charity. Let us try, first, to define it. What is it?
First.—It is Divine. It must be shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost.
In vain do we look for this heavenly plant amongst the unrenewed children of men—it grows not on the corrupt soil of human nature; it springs only where the ploughshare of true repentance has broken up the fallow ground of the heart, and where faith in a crucified Saviour has purified it, and where the blessed Holy Spirit has taken permanent possession. It is the love of God—not only love to God, but like God, from God, and fixed on the same objects and ends which He loves. It is a Divine implantation by the Holy Ghost. Perhaps some of you are saying, "Then it is useless for me to try to cultivate it, because I have not got it,—exactly!" You may cut and prune and water forever, but you can never cultivate that which is not planted. Your first work is to get this love shed abroad in your heart. It is one of the delusions of this age that human nature only wants pruning, improving, developing, and it come out right. No, no! Every plant which my Heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up. If you want this Divine love, you must break up the fallow ground of your hearts, and invite the Heavenly Husbandman to come and sow it—shed it abroad in your soul.
Secondly, I want you to note that this love is a Divine principle, in contradistinction to the mere love of instinct. All men have love as an instinct; mere natural love towards those whom they like, or who do well for them. "If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even publicans the same?" Wicked men love one another from mere natural affinity, as the tiger loves its cubs. There is great confusion amongst professors of religion on this subject. They feel sentiments of pity and generosity towards their fellow-men, and they may even give their goods to feed the poor, and yet not have a spark of Divine Charity in their hearts. Saul, after God departed from him, was not wholly destitute of generous feeling respecting his family and kingdom. Dives in hell had some pity for his brethren! But neither of them had a spark of this Divine Charity. Mind you are not deceived; millions are!
Let us note one or two points wherein a spurious and Divine Charity utterly and forever diverge—disagree in nature.
First.—Spurious Charity is selfish—is never exercised but to gratify some selfish principle in human nature. Thousands of motives inspire it—too many to enumerate; but we will glance at two or three. We read in the context that a man might give his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned, and yet be destitute of true Charity.
Now what an anomaly. But we have wonderful illustrations that such a thing is possible. First, a man may do this to support and carry out a favorite system of intellectual belief of which he has become enamored, just as men become absorbed, in politics, or in what they consider the good of their nation, so that they will even go to the cannon's mouth to promote it.
Further, a man may do it in order to merit eternal life. Paul did this when he went about to establish his own righteousness. He tells us afterwards that self was the mainspring of all his zeal. It was all his own exaltation; there was no Divine love; he was an utterly unrenewed, Christless, and selfish man, at the very time he was doing this.
Or, it may be, in the third place, to gratify a naturally generous disposition. I used to say to a generous friend of mine, when he was talking in a confidential way about his giving, and the delight it gave him, attributing it to Divine grace—I used to put my hand on his, and say, "Hold! my friend; I am not so sure it is all grace. You like giving better than other people do receiving. Look out that you do not lose your reward through not taking the trouble to see what you give to; don't give your money to every scheme that comes across you. Remember that you are answerable to God for your wealth, and that God will demand of you HOW you have bestowed your goods." That is true Charity that takes the trouble to investigate relative claims, and tries to find out the best channels in which to give for God's glory and the salvation of men. Don't you put down your generosity to the Holy Ghost if it is not of that kind, for you will never receive a bit of interest for it, here or hereafter—not a fraction!
A false Charity begins in self and ends on earth. Here is a mark for you to distinguish between it and God's Charity. The devil's Charity always contemplates the earthy part of man in a superior degree to the spiritual part; and here it exactly crosses and contradicts the Divine Charity, which always contemplates man in the entirety of his being, and always gives the first importance to the soul.
We have plenty of spurious Charity in these days. The other day when I took up a so-called "religious print," and saw some fulsome things it had been saying about a certain individual, lately dead, I thought, really, would one ever imagine this were a Christian paper, in a Christian country? There is not the slightest recognition of a soul, no reference to the man's spiritual condition or his future state. Here are one or two of the most ordinary human qualifications seized on, and made the most of, to make it out that he was something beyond his fellows, but, as to any recognition of a soul, or of a God who will judge him, of a Heaven or hell, nothing!
Oh, people say, when speaking of Godless, and even wicked men, "You must be charitable, you must not judge." Satan does not care how much of this one-sided Charity there is; the more the better for his purpose; it will make people all the more comfortable in their sins, and get them all the more easily down to hell.
My friends, are you more concerned about relieving temporal distress than you are about feeding famished souls? If you are, you may know where your charity comes from! Don't misrepresent me, and say that I teach all of one, and none of the other. God forbid, for, if any man "hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" But, on the other side, if he sees him spiritually famishing—dying for want of the bread of life—how dwelleth the love of Christ in him, if he does not minister to this spiritual destitution? I know that real Christianity cares for body and soul. Bless God, it does; but, always mind that it sets the soul FIRST. I know the Master fed the multitude; but, before that, He had them with Him three days, trying to save their souls, and when they got hungry in the process, then He made them sit down, and fed their bodies. He always looked after the soul first, and so does everyone possessed of Divine Charity.
Why? Because Divine Charity has opened his eyes. He realizes the value of souls. He sees them famishing. He sees them being damned, and he cannot help himself. His desire to save them rushes out of him like a torrent; he beholds them, and has compassion on them. Try your Charity by this mark: Do you contemplate the dying, famishing, half- damned souls of your fellow-men? Do you look abroad on the state of the world, and the state of the church? Do you think about it? Do you go into your closet, and spread it before the Lord, as Hezekiah and Jeremiah and Hosea did? Do you look at it, and turn it over, and weep over it, and pray and cry, as Daniel and Paul did? Try yourselves, my brethren, my sisters, by this mark.
Divine Charity is always revolving round that great problem of infinite love. "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Oh, I can never get it out of my ears or away from my heart! Oh, how I see the emptiness and vanity of everything compared with the salvation of the soul! What does it matter, if a man dies in the work-house—if he dies on a door-step, covered with wounds, like Lazarus—what does it matter, if his soul is saved? It is your creed as much as mine, that the soul is immortal, and that the death of the body is only its introduction, if it be saved, to a glorious future of everlasting felicity, progress, and holiness. Does the child remember how he used to cry over his lessons, when he becomes a man? Does he remember all the little difficulties of his school days, when he is inheriting the fruits of them? Just so; ten thousand times less important will be all our sufferings, trials, and griefs here, if we save our souls, and the souls of others.
This Divine Charity makes everything else subservient to the salvation of souls; it uses everything else to save and bless the inner and spiritual man. Do you remember, on one occasion, when the Master had fed the multitudes, and when they came to Him again to be fed, He said, "Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled." You would have said, "Quite right; the people want to be fed; they are hungry." But do you hear the Divine lament that comes out in these words, that they were so spiritually obtuse, that they valued the earthly bread more than the heavenly! Give them as much temporal bread as you like, but mind you give them the spiritual bread first, for this is characteristic of true Charity.
Have you got this Charity? Every soul knows whether it has or not. People are so unphilosophical in religion; they talk about not knowing; but you can find out in two minutes whether you love God or yourself best. Tell me that woman does not know whether she loves her husband or herself best! Nonsense! What is the proof?—she seeks to please him, and is willing to sacrifice herself for him—in fact, merges her interests altogether in his. Do you love God best? Are you willing to forego your interests, and to seek His? Have you this Divine Charity, born of Heaven, tending to Heaven? If not, my friend, resolve you will have it now. Begin to cry mightily to God, for the Holy Spirit to shed it abroad in your heart; give up your quibblings and reasonings, and go down at the foot of the cross and ask Him,— "Come, Lord, and break up this poor, wicked heart of mine, and shed this beautiful, pure, Divine Charity abroad in it," and then you will not, henceforth, seek your own, but the things that are Jesus Christ's.
CHARITY AND REBUKE.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.—1 COR. xiii. 13.
The second main point of difference between a true and a false Charity, we want to remark, is, Divine Charity is not only consistent with, but it very often necessitates, reproof and rebuke by its possessor. It renders it incumbent on those who possess it to reprove and rebuke whatever is evil—whatever does not tend to the highest interests of its object.
This Charity conforms in this, as in everything else, to its Divine model—"As many as I love I rebuke and chasten"—when necessary for the good of its object, for He doth not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men, any more than a father willingly chastises a disobedient child; but, if he be a wise father, he will do it because he loves it. Just so the possessor of this Divine Charity can afford to rebuke and reprove sin wherever he finds it. He will not suffer sin upon his neighbor, but will in any wise reprove him, and strive to win him to the right. We will just turn to a beautiful illustration (there are many, if we had time to go into them) of the working of this Divine Charity in the heart and life of the very apostle who wrote this 13th of Corinthians. We cannot get wrong, because it is Paul himself. (Gal. ii. 11-15.)
"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, I said unto Peter before them all"—
Well done, Paul,—noble, gloriously courageous Charity that! He did not go and mutter behind Peter's back and stab him in the dark—
"I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles."
You want a characteristic of true Charity. Now, listen to it. It would be exceedingly painful to Paul thus publicly to rebuke Peter. They loved one another, for we find Peter, long after this, in one of his Epistles, calling Paul "our beloved brother, Paul." They loved one another. Paul understood the claims of true Charity, for he wrote this thirteenth of Corinthians. If he loved Peter, and if he understood the claims of true Charity, why did he thus openly rebuke Peter, why did he inflict upon himself the pain of doing it? Faithfulness to Peter himself, faithfulness to the truth, faithfulness to Jesus Christ demanded it; therefore, he sacrificed his own personal feelings, and inflicted this pain upon himself, rather than allow Peter to go wrong, the Romans to be misled, and the Jews to be carried away with worldly policy. Paul set himself to rebuke Peter in the presence of all, for truth lay, as it very often does, with the minority; nearly all the influence was on the side of the circumcision. They were the most influential of the brethren, and Paul set himself against all this influence in his rebuke of Peter. Why? Because faithfulness to the truth demanded it, and Divine Charity is FIRST PURE.
There is a greater example still in our Lord Himself, in the Master whose whole soul was love, whose life was one sacrifice for the good of His creatures; and yet how faithfully He reproved His own when they erred from the truth, and how fearlessly He exposed and denounced the shallowness and hypocrisy of those who professed to love God, and yet contradicted this profession in their lives. How fearlessly He reproved sin everywhere. He said to his disciples on one occasion, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." As if He had said, you ought to have learned this before now.
On another occasion, He said, "Are ye also yet without understanding?" And again, "Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou savourest not the things that be of God;" that was Divine Charity, that was faithful love, that dared to rebuke, rather than let the object of it do wrong, and sin against God. And again, when He goes to the hypocrites and Pharisees, He says, "Ye say ye are the children of Abraham"—(it was as difficult for Jesus Christ to confute the professors of His day, as it is for His ambassadors to confute the professors of this day, who are living inconsistently with their professions)—He said, "Ye say that ye are the children of Abraham; if ye were the children of Abraham, ye would listen to me; or, if ye were the children of God, ye would believe in me, for I came out from God. No! ye are the children of your father, the devil, and his works ye do." And yet His Divine heart was full, to breaking, of love, and broke itself on the cross for them, and prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Oh, that your Charity and mine might not lack this lineament of the Divine likeness! Would to God there were more of this faithful, loving Charity, that dares to reprove sin, and to rebuke its brother, instead of the false Charity that fawns on a man to his face, and goes behind him and stabs him in the back.
Do you suppose that the great mass of the professors of this generation think one another to be right? Take almost any given church. Do you suppose that the great mass of the members of that church suppose in their hearts that their fellow members, brothers and sisters in church communion, are living consistently—I don't mean in things only, but in heart—that they are living really godly lives? Alas! witness what they say behind each other's backs. They believe no such thing; they know perfectly well it is not so, and they take care to tell other people so; and yet there is not one in a thousand of them ever went privately to his brother, and took lovingly hold of his hand, and reproved him for his sinful and backsliding conduct.
What would be thought of any woman who were to go, after being to church the day before, and ask for a private interview with Mrs. —-, and, when alone with her, with tears in her eyes, and deep earnestness in her voice, were to say, "Dear Mrs. —-, I have come to see you on a very painful errand, but will you suffer a word of exhortation from one so unworthy and weak as I feel myself to be, and yet, I trust, one who has the Spirit of God, which urges me to come to you? Will you allow me to say that I was much pained with your attitude at church, yesterday. It seemed to me that your mind was not at all occupied with the solemnity of the service, but seemed to be occupied in criticising the person's dress in the seat opposite to you, and I could not help noticing that when you got outside the doors you began to laugh and talk in a way quite incompatible with the service you had been attending?" If she were to say, "Dear Mrs. —-, I have not mentioned this to a soul, not even to my husband, but I have come to tell it to you; let us go down before the Lord and ask Him for the Holy Spirit, that He may show you how wrong you are, and how you are sliding away from the love of God"—what would be the thought, what would be said, of such conduct?
If everybody who sees sin upon his neighbor would do that—if he would take the Lord's counsel and go and see his brother alone, and tell him his fault—how many would be saved from backsliding, and how many a disgraceful split and controversy in churches might be saved!
But where are the people who will do it? I don't mean there are not any—God forbid—I know there are; but I am speaking comparatively. Where is the man who will inflict pain upon himself?—for that is the point. If it were a pleasant duty, he would do it easily enough; but it is a painful duty, he does not like to screw himself up to it. Where is the man that will do it, rather than suffer his brother to go to sleep in his sin, and rather than the precious cause of Christ shall be disgraced and injured? Where are the saints who will go in meekness and in love to try to reclaim the one who has erred? I hope you know a great many. I am sorry to say I know only a few. If you know many, I am very glad, and the more you know the better I am pleased. If you are one of these, that is one, at all events. If every Christian would have this sort of Charity, what a change would soon come about. That is what the church wants—people who can afford to rebuke and reprove, because they don't care what men think of THEM —who are set only on pleasing their Lord and Master, and doing His will.
Have you got this Charity that seeketh not her own? What a contrast between Saul and Paul. Did you ever think about it? What does he say? "I went about to establish my own righteousness." That was his inspiring motive; that was the spring of his action, before he got true Charity; not that he cared for the kingdom of God, but he cared for his own honor, glory, and exaltation, and wanted to stand well with his nation. Then contrast him when he becomes Paul. What does he say? "For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." There is Charity, if you like. These were the very people with whom he had been so anxious to stand well, and whose good word he wanted; but, when the Holy Ghost had come, and Paul had got the Divine Charity, and got his eyes opened to see their devilish and lost condition, he so weeps over them that he says, "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh."
There is a contrast. He does not care now, what they think of HIM; he is going about, trying to open their eyes and make them see that they are not the children of Abraham, but the children of the devil, that they are going to the bottomless pit, and that, unless they turn round and seek the God of their fathers, they must perish. Self is lost sight of altogether, now; Paul's heart and soul and efforts are set on the salvation of men. If they choose to; praise him, he takes it as a matter of course; if they choose to condemn him, he takes that as a matter of course, too. He is seeking the kingdom, and, however men treat him, the kingdom he seeks, right on to martyrdom. He runs the gauntlet of their direst hate and malice, that he may open their eyes and turn them from Satan to God, and from sin to righteousness. Self is lost sight of; it is not Paul now—it is Christ and His kingdom.
False Charity is the opposite of this. Its possessor is most concerned about what people think of HIM; not how they treat his professed Lord. The possessor of false Charity cannot afford to reprove anybody. Oh, dear, no! he would faint at the very idea; and he calls people hard and legal and censorious who dare to do it— poor, sneaking coward! but he will not be afraid to stab a man behind his back. The speech of this false Charity betrayeth it, it flattereth with its lips; honey is on its tongue, but the poison of asps is underneath; beware of it! Even when it professes to commend a brother, or neighbor, it rolls up its sanctimonious eyes, and always puts a "but" in—one of the devil's "buts." "Oh, he is a good man, but—." "Yes, I have a great esteem for him, only there is such and such a thing." Oh, it is very Divine. The devil can put on a garb of light when it answers his purpose. Oh, the fair reputations that this slime of the serpent has trailed over! Oh, the influence for good that this venom of the devil has poisoned and ruined, for it has been, truly said, "There is no virtue so white that back-wounding calumny will not strike"—even in God's perfect man, those who are watching and seeking to betray can find something on which to ground their accusations.
I say, mind which Charity you have got True Charity, rejoiceth not in iniquity. Are you conscious in your soul of a feeling of triumph when anybody that you don't like happens to fall on some evil thing? If you have, look out—the devil has got hold of you. Do you rejoice in iniquity when it happens to an enemy? If so, woe be to you, unless you get that venom out. God won't have it in Heaven. One man with that venom in him would damn Paradise, "Love your enemies"—love them; "bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven." Now, my brother, my sister, try yourself. "We shall meet again, and you will find that these are no imaginary vagaries that I have been talking of; they are realities—though these great realities of our Christianity are seldom preached in these days; but they are here, and there is no truth in you if you have not got the Charity which hates evil as evil, and which will reprove it, and root it out, and have it cured!"
Here, again, false Charity is the very antipodes of the Divine. It does not care much about righteousness. Quietness is its beau ideal of all that is lovely and excellent. It says, "Let us be quiet; you must not disturb the peace of the church." It cries, "Peace, peace!" when there is no peace. It says, "We cannot help these evils. Every man must look after himself; we are not responsible for our neighbor." It knows very often that there are continents of dirt underneath—"things," and "systems," and men—which it chooses to patronize; but then, it is covered up, and so it says, "Let it alone; we cannot have a smudge. Let it alone. Peace! Peace! Never mind righteousness—the church must be supported, if the money does come out of the dried-up vitals of drunkards and harlots; never mind, we must have it. Never mind if our songs are mixed with the shrieks of widows and orphans, of the dying and damned! Sing away, sing away, and drown their voices. Never mind; we cannot have it looked into, and rooted out, and pulled up. Peace; we must have peace!" And they call you, as Ahab did Elijah, the disturber of Israel, if you dare to touch the sore place and exhibit their putrifying wounds and bruises; and when you say to them, "The law of life is, 'Do unto others as you would they should do unto you,'" they impudently turn upon you and say, "But we are not expected to be perfect in this life," and so they throw a thicker covering over the filth, and on it goes.