Friday, April 28, 2023

“Secret Sins” | Charles Spurgeon Sermon (Historic Homilies)

Note: This version of the text contains minor changes I made while recording the sermon. Some of these changes were accidental reading errors, while others were intentional in order to aid understanding.

“Secret Sins”
by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
February 8, 1857

Self-righteousness arises partly from pride but mainly from ignorance of God’s law. It is because men know little or nothing concerning the terrible character of the divine law, that they foolishly imagine themselves to be righteous. They are not aware of the deep spirituality, and the stern severity of the law, or they would have other and wiser notions. Once let them know how strictly the law deals with the thoughts, how it brings itself to bear upon every emotion of the inner man, and there is not one creature beneath God’s heaven who would dare to think himself righteous in God’s sight in virtue of his own deeds and thoughts. Only let the law be revealed to a man; let him know how strict the law is, and how infinitely just, and his self-righteousness will shrivel into nothing—it will become a filthy rag in his sight, whereas before he thought it to be a goodly garment.

Now, David, having seen God’s law, and having praised it in this Psalm, which I have read in your hearing, he is brought, by reflecting on its excellency, to utter this thought, “Who can understand his errors?” and then to offer this prayer, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

In the Lateran Council of the Church of Rome, a decree was passed that every true believer must confess his sins, all of them, once in a year to the priest, and they affixed to it this declaration, that there is no hope of pardon but in complying with that decree. What can equal the absurdity of such a decree as that? Do they suppose that they can tell their sins as easily as they can count their fingers? Why, if we could receive pardon for all our sins by telling every sin we have committed in one hour, there is not one of us who would be able to enter heaven, since, besides the sins that are known to us and that we may be able to confess, there are a vast mass of sins, which are as truly sins as those which we do observe, but which are secret, and come not beneath our eye.

Oh! if we had eyes like those of God, we should think very differently of ourselves. The sins that we see and confess are but like the farmer’s small samples which he brings to market, when he has left his granary full at home. We have but a very few sins which we can observe and detect, compared with those which are hidden to ourselves and unseen by our fellow creatures. I doubt not it is true of all of us who are here, that in every hour of our existence in which we are active, we commit tens of thousands of unholinesses for which conscience has never reproved us, because we have never seen them to be wrong, seeing we have not studied God’s laws as we ought to have done. Now, be it known to us all that sin is sin, whether we see it or not—that a sin secret to us is a sin as truly as if we knew it to be a sin, though not so great a sin in the sight of God as if it had been committed presumptuously, seeing that it lacks the aggravation of willfulness. Let all of us who know our sins, offer this prayer after all our confessions: “Lord, I have confessed as many as I know, but I must add an etcetera after them, and say, ‘Cleanse thou me from secret faults.’”

That, however, will not be the pith of my sermon this morning. I am going after a certain class of men who have sins not unknown to themselves, but secret to their fellow creatures. Every now and then we turn up a fair stone which lies upon the green grass of the professing church, surrounded with the verdure of apparent goodness, and to our astonishment we find beneath it all kinds of filthy insects and loathsome reptiles, and in our disgust at such hypocrisy, we are driven to exclaim, “All men are liars; there are none in whom we can put any trust at all.” It is not fair to say so of all; but really, the discoveries which are made of the insincerity of our fellow-creatures are enough to make us despise our kind, because they can go so far in appearances, and yet have so little soundness of heart. To you, sirs, who sin secretly, and yet make a profession; you break God’s covenants in the dark and wear a mask of goodness in the light—to you, sirs, who shut the doors and commit wickedness in secret—to you I shall speak this morning. O may God also be pleased to speak to you, and make you pray this prayer: “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

I shall endeavour to urge upon all pretenders present to give up, to renounce, to detest, to hate, to abhor all their secret sins. And, first, I shall endeavour to show the folly of secret sins; secondly, the misery of secret sins; thirdly, the guilt of secret sins; fourthly, the danger of secret sins; and then I shall try to apply some words by way of remedy, that we may all of us be enabled to avoid secret sins.

I. First, then, the folly of secret sins.

Pretender, you are fair to look upon; your conduct outwardly upright, amiable, liberal, generous and Christian; but you do indulge in some sin which the eye of man has not yet detected. Perhaps it is private drunkenness. You do revile the drunkard when he staggers through the street; but you can yourself indulge in the same habit in private. It may be some other lust or vice; it is not for me just now to mention what it is. But, pretender, we say unto you, you are a fool to think of harbouring a secret sin; and you are a fool for this one reason, that your sin is not a secret sin; it is known, and shall one day be revealed; perhaps very soon. Your sin is not a secret; the eye of God has seen it; you have sinned before his face. You have shut-to the door, and drawn the curtains, and kept out the eye of the sun, but God’s eye pierceth through the darkness; the brick walls which surround you were as transparent as glass to the eye of the Almighty; the darkness which did gird you was as bright as the summer’s noon to the eye of him who beholdeth all things.

Do you not know, O man, that “all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do?” As the priest ran his knife into the entrails of his victim, discovered the heart and liver, and what else did lie within, so are you, O man, seen by God, cut open by the Almighty; you have no secret chamber where you can hide yourself; you have no dark cellar where you can conceal your soul. Dig deep, ay, deep as hell, but you cannot find earth enough upon the globe to cover your sin; if you should heap the mountains on its grave, those mountains would tell the tale of what was buried in their bowels. If you could cast your sin into the sea, a thousand babbling waves would tell the secret out. There is no hiding it from God. Your sin is photographed in high heaven; the deed when it was done was photographed upon the sky, and there it shall remain, and you shall see yourself one day revealed to the gazing eyes of all men, a hypocrite, a pretender, who sinned in fancied secret, observed in all your acts by the all-seeing Jehovah.

O what fools men are, to think they can do anything in secret. This world is like the glass hives wherein bees sometimes work: we look down upon them, and we see all the operations of the little creatures. So God looks down and sees all. Our eyes are weak; we cannot look through the darkness; but his eye, like an orb of fire, penetrates the blackness; and reads the thoughts of man, and sees his acts when he thinks himself most concealed. Oh; it were a thought enough to curb us from all sin, if it were truly applied to us—“Thou, God, seest me!” Stop thief! Drop that which you have taken to yourself. God sees you! No eye of detection on earth has discovered you, but God’s eyes are now looking through the clouds upon you. Swearer! hardly any for whom you care heard your oath; but God heard it; it entered into the ears of the Lord God of Sabbaoth. Ah! you who lead a filthy life, and yet are a respectable merchant bearing among men a fair and goodly character; your vices are all known; written in God’s book. He keeps a diary of all your acts; and what will you think on that day when a crowd shall be assembled, compared with which this immense multitude is but a drop of a bucket, and God shall read out the story of your secret life, and men and angels shall hear it.

Certain I am there are none of us who would like to have all our secrets read, especially our secret thoughts. If I should select out of this congregation the most holy man, should bring him forward and say, “Now, sir, I know all your thoughts, and am about to tell them,” I am sure he would offer me the largest bribe that he could gather if I would be pleased to conceal at least some of them. “Tell,” he would say, “of my acts; of them I am not ashamed; but do not tell my thoughts and imaginations—of them I must ever stand ashamed before God.” What, then, sinner, will be your shame when your private lusts, your closet transgressions, your secret crimes shall be announced from God’s throne, published by his own mouth, and with a voice louder than a thousand thunders preached in the ears of an assembled world? What will be your terror and confusion then, when all the deeds you have done shall be published in the face of the sun, in the ears of all mankind. O renounce the foolish hope of secresy, for your sin is this day recorded, and shall one day be advertised upon the walls of heaven.

II. In the next place, let us notice the misery of secret sins.

Of all sinners the man who makes a profession of religion, and yet lives in iniquity, is the most miserable. A downright wicked man, who takes a glass in his hand, and says, “I am a drunkard, I am not ashamed of it,” he shall be unutterably miserable in worlds to come, but brief though it be, he has his hour of pleasure. A man who curses and swears, and says, “That is my habit, I am a profane man,” and makes a profession of it, he has, at least, some peace in his soul; but the man who walks with God’s minister, who is united with God’s Church, who comes out before God’s people, and unites with them, and then lives in sin, what a miserable existence he must have of it! Why, he has a worse existence than the mouse that is in the parlour, running out now and then to pick up the crumbs, and then back again to his hole. Such men must run out now and then to sin; and oh! how fearful they are to be discovered! One day, perhaps, their character turns up; with wonderful cunning they manage to conceal and gloss it over; but the next day something else comes, and they live in constant fear, telling lie after lie, to make the last lie appear truthful, adding deception to deception, in order that they may not be discovered.

“Oh! ‘tis a tangled web we weave,
When once we venture to deceive.”

If I must be a wicked man, give me the life of a rowdy sinner, who sins before the face of day; but, if I must sin, let me not act as a hypocrite and a coward; let me not profess to be God’s, and spend my life for the devil. That way of cheating the devil is a thing which every honest sinner will be ashamed of. He will say, “Now, if I do serve my master I will serve him out and out, I will have no sham about it; if I make a profession, I will carry it out; but if I do not, if I live in sin, I am not going to gloss it over by empty words and hypocrisy.” One thing which has hamstringed the church, and cut her very sinews in two, has been this most damnable hypocrisy. Oh! in how many places have we men whom you might praise to the very skies, if you could believe their words, but whom you might cast into the nethermost pit if you could see their secret actions. God forgive any of you who are so acting! I had almost said, I can scarce forgive you. I can forgive the man who riots openly, and makes no profession of being better, but the man who fawns, and deceives, and pretends, and prays, and then lives in sin, that man I hate, I cannot bear him, I abhor him from my very soul. If he will turn from his ways, I will love him, but in his hypocrisy he is to me the most loathsome of all creatures.

‘Tis said the toad wears a jewel in her head, but this man has none, but beareth filthiness about him, while he pretends to be in love with righteousness. A mere profession, my hearers, is but painted pageantry to go to hell in; it is like the plumes upon the hearse and the trappings upon the black horses which drag men to their graves, the funeral array of dead souls. Take heed above everything of a waxen profession that will not stand the sun; be wary of a life that needs to have two faces to carry it out; be one thing, or else the other. If you make up your mind to serve Satan, do not pretend to serve God; and if you serve God, serve him with all your heart. “No man can serve two masters;” do not try it, do not endeavour to do it, for no life will be more miserable than that. Above all, beware of committing acts which it will be necessary to conceal. There is a singular poem by Hood, called “The Dream of Eugene Aram”—a most remarkable piece it is indeed, illustrating the point on which I am now dwelling. Aram has murdered a man and cast his body into the river—“a sluggish water, black as ink, the depth was so extreme.” The next morning he visited the scene of his guilt:

“And sought the black accursed pool,
With a wild misgiving eye;
And he saw the dead in the river bed,
For the faithless stream was dry.”

Next he covered the corpse with heaps of leaves, but a mighty wind swept through the wood and left the secret bare before the sun:

“Then down I cast me on my face,
And first began to weep,
For I knew my secret then was one
That earth refused to keep;
On land or sea though it should be
Ten thousand fathoms deep.”

In plaintive notes he prophesies his own discovery. He buried his victim in a cave, and trod him down with stones, but when years had run their weary round the foul deed was discovered and the murderer put to death.

Guilt is a “grim chamberlain,” even when his fingers are not bloody red. Secret sins bring fevered eyes and sleepless nights, until men burn out their consciences, and become in very deed ripe for the pit. Hypocrisy is a hard game to play at, for it is one deceiver against many observers; and for certain it is a miserable trade, which will earn at last, as its certain climax, a tremendous bankruptcy. Ah! you who have sinned without discovery, “Be sure your sin will find you out;” and mind you, it may find you out before long. Sin, like murder, will come out; men will even tell tales about themselves in their dreams. God has sometimes made men so pricked in their consciences that they have been obliged to stand forth and confess the story. Secret sinner! if you want the foretaste of damnation upon earth, continue in your secret sins; for no man is more miserable than he who sins secretly, and yet tries to preserve a character. Yon stag, followed by the hungry hounds, with open mouths, is far more happy than the man who is followed by his sins. Yon bird, taken in the fowler’s net, and labouring to escape, is far more happy than he who has weaved around himself a web of deception, and labours to escape from it day by day by making the toils more thick and the web more strong. Oh! the misery of secret sins! Truly, one may pray, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

III. But now, next, the guilt, the solemn guilt of secret sin.

Now, John, you do not think there is any evil in a thing unless somebody sees it, do you? You feel that it is a very great sin if your master finds you out in robbing the till—but there is no sin if he should not discover it—none at all. And you, sir, you fancy it to be very great sin to play a trick in trade, in case you should be discovered and brought before the court; but to play a trick and never be discovered, that is all fair—do not say a word about it Mr. Spurgeon, it is all business; you must not touch business; tricks that are not discovered, of course you are not to find fault with them.

The common measure of sin is the notoriety of it. But I do not believe in that. A sin is a sin, whether done in private or before the wide world. It is unique how men will measure guilt. A railway servant puts up a wrong signal, there is an accident; the man is tried, and severely reprimanded. The day before he put up the wrong signal, but there was no accident, and therefore no one accused him for his neglect. But it was just the same, accident or no accident, the accident did not make the guilt, it was the deed which made the guilt, not the notoriety nor yet the consequence of it. It was his business to have taken care; and he was as guilty the first time as he was the second, for he negligently exposed the lives of men. Do not measure sin by what other people say of it; but measure sin by what God says of it, and what your own conscience says of it.

Now, I hold that secret sin, if anything, is the worst of sin; because secret sin implies that the man who commits it has Atheism in his heart. You will ask how that can be. I reply, he may be a professing Christian, but I shall tell him to his face that he is a practical Atheist, if he labours to keep up a respectable profession before man, and then secretly transgresses. Why, is he not an Atheist, who will say there is a God, yet at the same time thinks more of man than he does of God? Is it not the very essence of Atheism—is it not a denial of the divinity of the Most High when men lightly esteem him and think more of the eye of a creature than of the observation of their Creator? There are some who would not for the life of them say a wicked word in the presence of their minister, but they can do it, knowing God is looking at them. They are Atheists. There are some who would not trick in trade for all the world if they thought they would be discovered, but they can do it while God is with them; that is, they think more of the eye of man than of the eye of God; and they think it worse to be condemned by man than to be condemned by God. Call it by what name you will, the proper name of that is practical Atheism. It is dishonoring God; it is dethroning him; putting him down below his own creatures; and what is that, but to take away his divinity?

Brethren, do not, I beseech you, incur the fearful guilt of secret sins. No man can sin a little in secret, it will certainly engender more sin; no man can be a hypocrite and yet be moderate in guilt; he will go from bad to worse, and still proceed, until when his guilt shall be published, he shall be found to be the very worst and most hardened of men. Take heed of the guilt of secret sin. Ah! now if could I preach as Rowland Hill did, I would make some people look to themselves at home, and tremble too! It is said that when he preached, there was not a man in the window, or standing in the crowd, or perched up anywhere, but said, “There, he is preaching at me; he is telling me about my secret sins.” And when he proclaimed God’s omniscience, it is said men would almost think they saw God bodily present in the midst of them looking at them. And when he had done his sermon, they would hear a voice in their ears, “Can any hide himself in secret places that I cannot see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” I wish I could do that; that I could make every man look to himself, and find out his secret sin. Come my hearer, what is it? Bring it forth to the daylight; perhaps it will die in the light of the sun. These things love not to be discovered. Tell your own conscience, now, what it is. Look it in the face; confess it before God, and may he give you grace to remove that sin and every other, and turn to him with full purpose of heart! But this know—that your guilt is guilt discovered or undiscovered, and that if there be any difference it is worse, because it has been secret. God save us from the guilt of secret sin! “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

IV. And note, next, the danger of secret sin. One danger is, that a man cannot commit a little sin in secret, without being by-and-by betrayed into a public sin. You cannot, sir, though you may think you can preserve a moderation in sin. If you commit one sin, it is like the melting of the lower glacier upon the Alps; the others must follow in time. As certainly as you heap one stone upon the mound to-day, the next day you will cast another, until the heap, reared stone by stone, shall become a very pyramid. See the coral insect at work, you cannot decree where it shall stop its work. It will not build its rock just as high as you please, it will not stay until it shall be covered with weeds, until the weeds shall decay; and there shall be soil upon it, and an island shall be created by tiny creatures.

Sin cannot be held in with bit and bridle. “But I am going to have a little drink now and then, I am only going to be intoxicated once a week or so. Nobody will see it; I shall be in bed directly.” You will be drunk in the streets soon. “I am only just going to read one lascivious book; I will put it under the sofa-cover when any one comes in.” You will keep it in your library yet, sir. “I am only going into that company now and then.” You will go there every day, such is the bewitching character of it; you cannot help it. You may as well ask the lion to let you put your head into his mouth. You cannot regulate his jaws: neither can you regulate sin. Once go into it, you cannot tell when you will be destroyed. You may be such a fortunate individual, that like Van Amburgh you may put your head in and out a great many times; rest assured that one of these days it will be a costly venture.

Again, you may labour to conceal your vicious habit, but it will come out, you cannot help it. You keep your little pet sin at home; but mark this, when the door is ajar the dog will be out in the street. Wrap him up in your bosom, put over him fold after fold of hypocrisy to keep him secret, the wretch will be singing some day when you are in company; you cannot keep the evil bird still. Your sin will gad abroad; and what is more, you will not mind it some of these days. A man who indulges in sin privately, by degrees gets his forehead as hard as brass. The first time he sinned, the drops of sweat stood on his brow at the recollection of what he had done; the second time, no hot sweat on his brow, only an agitation of the muscle; the third time there was the sly, sneaky look, but no agitation; the next time, he sinned a little further; and by degrees he became the bold blasphemer of his God, who exclaimed, “Who am I that I should fear Jehovah, and who is he that I should serve him?”

Men go from bad to worse. Launch your boat in the current—it must go where the current takes it. Put yourself in the whirlwind—you are but a straw in the wind: you must go which way the wind carries you—you cannot control yourself. The balloon can mount, but it cannot direct its course; it must go whichever way the wind blows. If you once mount into sin there is no stopping. Take heed if you would not become the worst of characters, take heed of the little sins, they, mounting one upon another, may at last heave you from the summit and destroy your soul for ever. There is a great danger in secret sins.

But I have here some Christians who indulge in secret sins. They say it is but a little one, and therefore do they spare it. Dear brethren, I speak to you, and I speak to myself, when I say this—let us destroy all our little secret sins. They are called little and if they be, let us remember that it is the foxes, even the little foxes, that spoil our vines; for our vines have tender shoots. Let us take heed of our little sins. A little sin, like a little pebble in the shoe, will make a traveller to heaven walk very wearily. Little sins, like little thieves, may open the door to greater ones outside. Christians, recollect that little sins will spoil your communion with Christ. Little sins, like little stains in silk, may damage the fine texture of fellowship; little sins, like little irregularities in the machinery, may spoil the whole fabric of your religion. The one dead fly spoils the whole pot of ointment. That one thistle may seed a continent with noxious weeds. Let us, brethren, kill our sins as often as we can find them. One said—“The heart is full of unclean birds; it is a cage of them.” “Ah, but,” said another divine, “you must not make that an apology, for a Christian’s business is to wring their necks.” And so it is; if there be evil things, it is our business to kill them. Christians must not tolerate secret sins. We must not harbour traitors; it is high treason against the King of Heaven. Let us drag them out to light, and offer them upon the altar, giving up the dearest of our secret sins at the will and bidding of God. There is a great danger in a little secret sin; therefore avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it and shun it; and God give you grace to overcome it!

V. And now I come, in finishing up, to plead with all my might with some of you whom God has pricked in your consciences. I have come to intreat you, if it be possible, even to tears, that you will give up your secret sins. I have one here for whom I bless God; I love him, though I know him not. He is almost persuaded to be a Christian; he halts between two opinions; he intends to serve God, he strives to give up sin, but he finds it a hard struggle, and as yet he knows not what shall become of him. I speak to him with all love: my friend, will you have your sin and go to hell, or leave your sin and go to heaven? This is the solemn alternative: to all awakened sinners I put it; may God choose for you, otherwise I tremble as to which you may choose. The pleasures of this life are so intoxicating, the joys of it so ensnaring, that did I not believe that God works in us to will and to do, I should despair of you. But I have confidence that God will decide the matter.

Let me lay the alternative before you:—on the one hand there is an hour’s merriment, a short life of bliss, and that a poor, poor bliss; on the other hand, there is everlasting life and eternal glory. On the one hand, there is a transient happiness, and afterwards overwhelming woe; in this case there is a solid peace and everlasting joy, and after it overflowing bliss. I shall not fear to be called an Arminian, when I say, as Elijah did, “Choose you this day whom you will serve. If God be God, serve him; if Baal be God serve him.” But, now, make your choice deliberately; and may God help you to do it! Do not say you will take up with religion, without first counting the cost of it; remember, there is your lust to be given up, your pleasure to be renounced; can you do it for Christ’s sake? Can you? I know you cannot, unless God’s grace shall assist you in making such a choice. But can you say, “Yes, by the help of God, earth’s gaudy toys, its pomps, pageantries, gewgaws, all these I renounce?

“These can never satisfy,
Give me Christ or else I die.”

Sinner, you will never regret that choice, if God help you to make it; you will find yourself a happy man here, and thrice happy throughout all eternity.

“But,” says one, “Sir, I intend to be religious, but I do not hold with your strictness.” I do not ask you to do so; I hope, however, you will hold with God’s strictness, and God’s strictness is ten thousand times greater than mine. You may say that I am puritanical in my preaching; God will be puritanical in judging in that great day. I may appear severe, but I can never be so severe as God will be. I may draw the harrow with sharp teeth across your conscience, but God shall drag harrows of eternal fire across you one day. I may speak thundering things! God will not speak them, but hurl them from his hands. Remember, men may laugh at hell, and say there is none; but they must reject their Bibles before they can believe the lie. Men’s consciences tell them that

“There is a dreadful hell,
And everlasting pains;
Where sinners must with devils dwell,
In darkness, fire and chains.”

Sirs, will ye keep your secret sins, and have eternal fire for them? Remember it is of no use, they must all be given up, or else you cannot be God’s child. You cannot by any means have both; it cannot be God and the world, it cannot be Christ and the devil; it must be one or the other. Oh! that God would give you grace to resign all; for what are they worth? They are your deceivers now, and will be your tormentors for ever. Oh! that your eyes were open to see the rottenness, the emptiness and trickery of iniquity. Oh! that God would turn you to himself. Oh! may God give you grace to cross the Rubicon of repentance at this very hour; to say, “Henceforth it is war to the knife with my sins; not one of them will I willingly keep, but down with them, down with them; Canaanite, Hittite, Jebusite, they shall all be driven out.”

“The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be;
Help me to tear it from its throne,
And worship only thee.”

“But oh! sir, I cannot do it; it would be like pulling my eyes out.” Ay, but hear what Christ says: “It were better for thee to enter into life with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” “But it would be like cutting my arm off.” Ay, and it would be better for you to enter into life disabled or maimed, than to be cast into hell fire for ever. Oh! when the sinner comes before God at last, do you think he will speak as he does now? God will reveal his secret sins: the sinner will not then say, “Lord, I thought my secret sins so sweet, I could not give them up.” I think I see how changed it will be then. “Sir” you say now, “you are too strict;” will you say that when the eyes of the Almighty are glowering on you? You say now, “Sir, you are too precise;” will you say that to God Almighty’s face? “Sir, I mean to keep such-and-such a sin.” Can you say it at God’s bar at last? You will not dare to do it then.

Ah! when Christ comes a second time, there will be a marvellous change in the way men talk. I think I see him; there he sits upon his throne. Now, Caiaphas, come and condemn him now! Judas! come and kiss him now! What do you stick at, man? Are you afraid of him? Now, Barabbas! go; see whether they will prefer you to Christ now. Swearer, now is your time; you have been a bold man; curse him to his face now. Now drunkard; stagger up to him now. Now infidel; tell him there is no Christ now—now that the world is lit with lightning and the earth is shaken with thunder till the solid pillars thereof do bow themselves—tell God there is no God now; now laugh at the Bible; now scoff at the minister. Why men, what is the matter with you? Why, can’t you do it? Ah! there you are; you have fled to the hills and to the rocks—“Rocks hide us! mountains fall on us; hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne.” Ah! where are now your boasts, your vauntings, and your glories? Alas! alas! for you, in that dread day of wonders.

Secret sinner, what will then become of you? Go out of this place unmasked; go out to examine yourself, go out to bend your knee, go out to weep, go out to pray. God give you grace to believe! And oh, how sweet and pleasant the thought, that this day sinners have fled to Christ, and men have been born again to Jesus! Brethren, before I finish, I repeat the words at which so many have cavilled—it is now, or never, it is turn or burn. Solemnly in God’s sight I say it; if it be not God’s truth I must answer for it in the great day of account. Your consciences tell you it is true. Take it home, and mock me if you will; this morning I am clear of your blood: if any seek not God, but live in sin, I shall be clear of your blood in that day when the watchman shall have your souls demanded of him; oh, may God grant that you may be cleared in a blessed manner!

When I went down those pulpit stairs a Sabbath or two ago, a friend said to me words which have been in my mind ever since—“Sir, there are nine thousand people this day without excuse in the day of judgment.” It is true of you this morning. If you are damned, it will be not for want of preaching to you, and it shall not be for want of praying for you. God knows that if my heart could break of itself, it would, for your souls, for God is my witness, how earnestly I long for you in the bowels of Christ Jesus. Oh, that he might touch your hearts and bring you to him! For death is a solemn thing, damnation is a horrible thing, to be out of Christ is a dreadful thing, to be dead in sin is a terrifying thing. May God lead you to view these things as they are, and save you, for his mercy’s sake! “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved.”

“Lord, search my soul, try every thought;
Though my own heart accuse me not
Of walking in a false disguise,
I beg the trial of thine eyes.

Doth secret mischief lurk within?
Do I indulge some unknown sin?
O turn my feet whene’er I stray,
And lead me in thy perfect way.”

Thursday, April 20, 2023

“The Conditions of Power in Prayer” | Charles Spurgeon Sermon (Historic Homilies)

Note: This version of the text contains minor changes I made while recording the sermon. Some of these changes were accidental reading errors, while others were intentional in order to aid understanding.
“The Conditions of Power in Prayer”
by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
March 23, 1873

“And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him. because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” – 1 John 3:22–24

I thought of addressing you this morning upon the importance of prayer, and I designed earnestly to stir you up to pray for me and for the Lord’s work in this place. Truly, I do not think I could have had a more weighty subject, or one which weighs more upon my soul. If I were only allowed to offer one request to you it would be this— “Brethren, pray for us.” Of what use can our ministry be without the divine blessing, and how can we expect the divine blessing unless it be sought for by the Church of God? I would say it even with tears, “Brethren, pray for us:” do not restrain prayer: on the contrary, be abundant in intercession, for so, and so only, can our prosperity as a church be increased, or even continued.

But then, the question occurred to me, what if there should be something in the church which would prevent our prayers being successful? That is a previous question, and one which ought to be considered most earnestly even before we exhort you to intercession; because as we have already been taught by the first chapter of Isaiah, the prayers of an unholy people will soon become abominations to God. “When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear.” Churches may fall into such a state that their devotions will be an iniquity; “even the solemn meeting” will be weariness unto the Lord. There may be evils in the heart of any one of us which may render it impossible for God, in consistency with his own character and attributes, to have any regard to our intercessions. If we regard iniquity in our hearts the Lord will not hear us. According to our text, there are some things which are essential to prevalence in prayer. God will hear all true prayer, but there are certain things which the people of God must possess, or else their prayers will fall short of the mark. The text tells us, “Whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” Now this morning, the subject of consideration will be the essentials to power in prayer; what we must do, what we must be, what we must have, if we are to prevail habitually with God in prayer, as a matter of constant fact. Let us learn how to become Elijahs and Jacobs.

I. I shall begin, first, by considering the essentials of power in prayer. We must make a few distinctions at the outset. I take it there is a great difference between the prayer of a soul that is seeking mercy and the prayer of a man who is saved. I would say to every person present, whatever his character, if you sincerely seek mercy of God through Jesus Christ you shall have it. Whatever may have been your previous condition of life, if now penitently you seek Jehovah’s face, through the appointed Mediator, he will be found by you. If the Holy Spirit has taught you to pray, hesitate no longer, but hasten to the cross, and there rest your guilty soul on Jesus. Qualifications for the sinner’s first prayer I know of none except sincerity; but we must speak in a different way to those of you who are saved. You have now become the people of God, and while you shall be heard just as the sinner would be heard, and shall daily find the needful grace which every seeker receives in answer to prayer, yet you are now a child of God and you are under a special discipline peculiar to the regenerated family. In that discipline answers to prayer occupy a high position, and are of eminent use. There is something for a believer to enjoy over and above bare salvation; there are mercies, and blessings, and comforts, and favours, which render his present life useful, happy and honourable, and these he shall not have irrespective of character. They are not vital matters with regard to salvation; those the believer possesses unconditionally, for they are covenant blessings; but we now refer to the honours and the dainties of the house, which are given or withheld according to our obedience as the Lord’s children. If you neglect the conditions appended to these, your heavenly Father will withhold them from you.

The essential blessings of the covenant of grace stand unconditioned; the invitation to seek for mercy is addressed to those who have no qualifications whatever, except their need: but come inside the divine family as saved men and women, and you will find that other choice blessings are given or withheld according to our attention to the Lord’s rules in his family. To give a common illustration: If a hungry person were at your door, and asked for bread, you would give it to him, whatever might be his character; you will also give your child food, whatever may be his behaviour; you will not deny your child anything that is necessary for life; you will never proceed in any course of discipline against him, so as to deny him his needful food, or a garment to shield him from the cold; but there are many other things which your child may desire, which you will give him if he be obedient, but which you will not give if he be rebellious to you. I take it, that this illustrates how far the paternal government of God will push this matter, and where it will not go.

Understand also, that the text refers not so much to God’s hearing a prayer of his servants now and then, for that he will do, even when his servants are out of course with him, and when he is hiding his face from them; but the power in prayer here intended is continuous and absolute with God; so that to quote the words of the text, “whatsoever we ask of him we receive.”

For this prayer there are certain pre-requisites and essentials of which we have now to speak, and the first is child-like obedience: “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments.” If we are destitute of this the Lord may say to us as he did to his people Israel, “Ye have forsaken me, and served other gods, wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen.” Any father will tell you that for him to grant the request of a disobedient child would be to encourage rebellion in the family, and render it impossible for him to rule in his own house. It is often incumbent upon the parent to say, “My child, you did not listen to my word just now, and, therefore, I cannot listen to yours.” Not that the father does not love, but that he does love the child, and because of his love, he feels bound to show his displeasure by refusing the request of his erring offspring. God acts with us as we should act towards our stubborn children, and if he sees that we will go into sin and transgress, it is a part of his kind paternal discipline to say, “I will shut out your prayer, when you cry unto me; I will not hear you when you entreat of me; I will not destroy you, you shall be saved, you shall have the bread of life, and the water of life, but you shall have no more: the luxuries of my kingdom shall be denied you, and anything like special prevalence with me in prayer you shall not possess.”

That thus the Lord deals with his own people is clear from the Eighty-first Psalm: “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.” Why, if the disobedient child of God had the promise put into his hands— “Whatsoever ye ask in prayer, ye shall receive,” he would be sure to ask for something that would bolster him up in his rebellion, he would be asking for provision for his own lust, and aids for his rebellion. This can never be tolerated. Shall God pander to our corruptions? Shall he find fuel for the flames of carnal passion? A self-willed heart hankers after greater liberty that it may be the more obstinate; a haughty spirit longs for greater elevation that it may be prouder still; a slothful spirit asks for greater ease that it may be yet more indolent; and a domineering spirit asks for more power that it may have more opportunities of oppression. As is the man such will his prayer be— a rebellious spirit offers self-willed and proud prayers. Shall God listen to such prayers as these? It cannot be. He will give us what we ask if we keep his commandments, but if we become disobedient and reject his government he also will reject our prayers, and say: “If ye walk contrary to me, I also will walk contrary to you: with the froward, I will show myself froward.” Happy shall we be if through divine grace we can say with David, “I will wash my hands in innocency; so will I compass thine altar, O Lord.” This will never be perfect innocency, but it will at least be innocence of the love of sin and of wilful revolt from God.

Next to this is another essential to victorious prayer, namely, child-like reverence. Notice the next sentence: We receive what we ask “because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” We do not allow children when they have a command from their father to question its propriety or wisdom; obedience ends where questioning begins. A child’s standard of its duty must not become the measure of the father’s right to command: good children say, “Father has bidden us to do so and so, and therefore we will do it, for we delight to please him always.” The weightiest reason for a loving child’s action is the persuasion that it would please his parents; and the strongest thing that can be said to hold back a gracious child, is to prove that such a course of action would displease his parents. It is precisely so with us towards God, who is a perfect parent, and therefore we may without fear of mistake always make his pleasure the rule of right, while the rule of wrong may safely remain that which would displease him.

Suppose any of us should be self-willed, and say, “I shall not do what God pleases, I shall do what pleases myself.” Then, observe, what would be the nature of our prayers? Our prayers might then be summed up in the request, “Let me have my own way?” And can we expect God to consent to that? Are we to be, not only lords over God’s heritage but over God himself? Would you have the Almighty resign the throne to place a proud mortal there? If you have a child in your house who has no respect whatever for his father, but who says, “I want to have my own way in all things;” if he comes to you with a request, will you stoop to him? Will you allow him to dictate to you, and forget the honour due to you? Will you say, “Yes, my dear child, I recognise your importance, you shall be lord in the house, and whatsoever you ask for you shall have!” What kind of a house would that be? I fear there are some such houses, for there are foolish parents who suffer their children to become their masters and so make a rod for their own backs: but God’s house is not ordered so: he will not listen to his self-willed children, except it be to hear them in anger, and to answer them in wrath.

Remember how he heard the prayer of Israel for flesh, and when the meat was yet in their mouths it became a curse to them. Many persons are chastened by obtaining their own desires, even as backsliders are filled with their own devices. We must have a child-like reverence of God, so that we feel, “Lord, if what I ask for does not please you neither would it please me. My desires are put into your hands to be corrected: strike the pen through every petition that I offer which is not right, and, Lord, put in whatever I have omitted, even though I might not have desired it had I recollected it. Good Lord, if I ought to have desired it, hear me as if I had desired it.  Not as I will, but as thou wilt.’” Now I think you can see that this yielding spirit is essential to continual prevalence with God in prayer; the reverse is a sure bar to eminence in supplication. The Lord will be reverenced by those who are round about him. They must have an eye to his pleasure in all that they do and all that they ask, or he will not look upon them with favour.

In the third place, the text suggests the necessity of child-like trust: “And this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” Everywhere in Scripture faith in God is spoken of as necessary to successful prayer. We must believe that God is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, or else we have not prayed at all; but in proportion to our faith will be the success of our prayer. It is a standing rule of the kingdom, “According to thy faith, so be it unto thee.” Remember how the Holy Spirit speaks by the mouth of the apostle James: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, not wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”

The text speaks of faith in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, which I understand to mean faith in his declared character, faith in his gospel, faith in the truth concerning his substitution and salvation. Or it may mean faith in the authority of Christ, so that when I plead with God and say, “Do it in the name of Jesus,” I mean, “Do for me as you would have done for Jesus, for I am authorised by him to use his name; do it for me as you would have done it for him.” He that can pray with faith in the name cannot fail, for the Lord Jesus has said, “If ye ask anything in my name, I will do it.” But there must be faith, and if there be no faith we cannot expect to be heard.

Do you not see that? Let us come back to our family similitudes again. Suppose a child in the house does not believe his father’s word, and is constantly saying that he finds his mind full of doubts as to his father’s truthfulness; suppose, indeed, that he tells his brothers and sisters that his faith in his father is very weak. He mentions that wretched fact, but is not at all shocked that he should say such a thing, but he rather feels that he ought to be pitied, as if it were an infirmity which he could not avoid. Somehow or other he does not believe that his father speaks the truth, and he declares that, though he tries to believe his father’s promise, yet he cannot. I think a father so basely distrusted would not be in a very great hurry to grant such a son’s requests; indeed, it is very probable that the petitions of the mistrustful son would be such as could not be complied with, even if his father were willing to do so, since they would amount to a gratification of his own unbelief, and a dishonour to his parent.

For instance, suppose this child should take it into his head to doubt whether his father would provide him with his daily food; he might then come to his father and say, “Father, give me enough money to last for the next ten years, for I shall then be a man, and shall be able to provide for myself. Give me money down to quiet my fears, for I am in great anxiety.” The father replies, “My son, what should I do that for?” And he gets for a reply, “I am very sorry to say it, dear father, but I cannot trust you; I have such a weak faith in you and your love that I am afraid one of these days you will leave me to starve, and therefore I should like to have something sure in the bank.” Which of you fathers would listen to a child’s request, if he sought such a thing? You would feel grieved that thoughts so dishonouring to yourself should pass through the mind of one of your own beloved ones; but you would not, and could not, give way to them.

Let me, then, ask you to apply the parable to yourselves. Did you never offer requests which were of much the same character? You have been unable to trust God to give you day by day your daily bread, and therefore you have been craving for what you call “some provision for the future.” You want a more trusty provider than providence, a better security than God’s promise. You are unable to trust your heavenly Father’s word, a few bonds of some half-bankrupt foreign government you consider to be far more reliable; you can trust the Sultan of Turkey, or the Viceroy of Egypt, but not the God of the whole earth! In a thousand ways we insult the Lord by imagining “the things which are seen” to be more substantial than his unseen omnipotence. We ask God to give us at once what we do not require at present, and may never need at all; at bottom the reason for such desires may be found in a disgraceful distrust of him which makes us imagine that great stores are needful to ensure our being provided for. Brethren, are you not to blame here, and do you expect the Lord to aid and abet your folly? Shall God pander to your distrust? Shall he give you a heap of cankering gold and silver for thieves to steal, and chests of garments to feed moths? Would you have the Lord act as if he admitted the correctness of your suspicions and confessed to unfaithfulness? God forbid! Expect not, therefore, to be heard when your prayer is suggested by an unbelieving heart: “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him and he shall bring it to pass.”

The next essential to continued success in prayer is child-like love: “That we should believe on the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another as he gave us commandment.” The great commandment after faith is love. As it is said of God, “God is love,” so may we say that “Christianity is love.” If we were each one incarnations of love, we should have attained to the complete likeness of Christ. We should abound in love to God, love to Christ, love to the church, love to sinners, and love to men everywhere. When a man has no love to God, he is in the condition of a child without love to his father. Shall his father promise absolutely to fulfil all the desires of his unloving, unfilial heart? Or, if a child has no love to his brothers and sisters, shall the father trust him with an absolute promise, and say, “Ask and it shall be given thee?” Why, the unloving son would impoverish the whole family by his selfish demands; regardless of all the rest of the household, he would only care to indulge his own passions. His request would before long be— “Father, give me all the inheritance;” or, “Father, regulate the home to suit me, and make all my brothers submit to my wishes.” Vain of his personal appearance, like Absalom, who was proud of his hair, he would soon seek the kingdom for himself.

Few Josephs can wear the garment of many colours, and not become household tyrants. Who would allow a prodigal to run off with the estate? Who would be so unwise as to install a greedy, domineering brother in the seat of honour, above his brethren? Hence, you see that selfishness cannot be trusted with power in prayer. Unloving spirits, that love neither God nor men, cannot be trusted with great, broad, unlimited promises. If God is to hear us we must love God, and love our fellowmen; for, when we love God, we shall not pray for anything that would not honour God, and shall not wish to see anything happen to us which would not also bless our brethren. Our hearts will beat true to God and to his creatures, and we shall not be wrapped up in ourselves. You must get rid of selfishness before God can trust you with the keys of heaven; but when self is dead, then he will enable you to unlock his treasuries, and, as a prince, shall you have power with God and prevail.

Next to this, we must have childlike ways as well. Read the next verse: “He that keepeth his commandments, dwelleth in him, and he in him.” It is one of a child’s ways to love its home. The good child to whose requests its father always listens, loves no place so much as the dear old house where its parents live. Now he who loves and keeps God’s commandments is said to dwell in him— he has made the Lord his dwelling place, and abides in holy familiarity with God. In him our Lord’s words are fulfilled, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” Faith and love, like two cherubic wings, have borne up the believer’s soul above the world, and carried him near to the throne of God. He has become like God, and now it is that his prayers are such as God can answer; but until he is thus conformed to the divine mind, there must be some limit to the potency of his pleadings. To dwell in God is needful to power with God.

Suppose one of you had a boy, who said, “Father, I do not like my home, I do not care for you; and I will not endure the restraints of family rule; I am going to live with strangers, but mark, father, I shall come to you every week, and I shall require many things of you; and I shall expect that you will give me whatever I ask from you.” Why, if you are at all fit to be at the head of the house, you will say, “My son, how can you speak to me in such a manner? If you are so self-willed as to leave my house, can you expect that I will do your bidding? If you utterly disregard me, can you expect me to support you in your cruel unkindness and wicked insubordination. No, my son; if you will not remain with me and own me as a father, I cannot promise you anything.” And so is it with God. If we will dwell with him, and commune with him, he will give us all things. If we love as he should be loved, and trust him as he ought to be trusted, then he will hear our requests; but if not it is not reasonable to expect it. Indeed, it would be a slur upon the divine character for him to fulfil unholy desires and gratify evil whims. “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he will give thee the desires of thine heart,” but if you have no delight in God, and he is not your dwelling place, he will not answer you. He may give you the bread of affliction and the water of affliction, and make life bitter to you, but certainly he will not give you what your heart desires.

One thing more: It appears from the text that we must have a child-like spirit, for “Hereby we know that he abideth in as, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” What is this but the Spirit of adoption— the Spirit which rules in all the children of God? The wilful who think and feel and act differently from God, must not expect that God will come round to their way of thinking and feeling and acting. The selfish who are actuated by the spirit of pride, the slothful who are actuated by the love of ease, must not expect that God will indulge them. The Holy Spirit if he rules in us, will subordinate our nature to his own sway, and then the prayers which spring out of our renewed hearts will be in keeping with the will of God, and such prayers will naturally be heard. No parent would think of listening to a wilful child, to a child that said, “I know my father does not wish me to have this, but I will have it.” Why, as a man you would not thus be twisted about by an upstart youngster. Shall God grant us that which we ask for when it is contrary to his holy mind? It must not be: such a possibility is not conceivable. The same mind must be in us which was also in Christ Jesus, and then we shall be able to say, “I know that thou hearest me always.”

But we must pass on, and occupy your attention for a few minutes, with another branch of the same subject.

II. In the second place we shall notice the prevalence of these essential things. If they be in us and abound, our prayers cannot be barren or unprofitable.

First, if we have faith in God, there is no question about God’s hearing our prayer. If we can plead in faith the name and blood of Jesus, we must obtain answers of peace. But a thousand cavils are suggested. Suppose these prayers concern the laws of nature, then the scientific men are against us. What of that? I will glory in giving these scientific men scope enough— I had almost said rope enough. I do not know of any prayer worth praying which does not come into contact with some natural law or other, and yet I believe in prayers being heard. It is said that God will not change the laws of nature for us, and I reply, “Whoever said he would!” The Lord has ways of answering our prayers irrespective of the working of miracles or suspending laws. He used to hear prayer by miracle, but as I have often said to you, that seems a rougher way of achieving his purpose; it is like stopping a vast machine for a small result, but he knows how to accomplish his ends and hear our prayers by I know not what secret means. Perhaps there are other forces and laws which he has arranged to bring into action just at times when prayer also acts, laws just as fixed, and forces just as natural as those which our learned theorizers have been able to discover. The wisest men know not all the laws which govern the universe, nay, nor a tithe of them.

We believe that the prayers of Christians are a part of the machinery of providence, cogs in the great wheel of destiny, and when God leads his children to pray, he has already set in motion a wheel that is to produce the result prayed for, and the prayers offered are moving as a part of the wheel. If there be but faith in God, God must either cease to be, or cease to be true, or else he must hear prayer. The verse before the text says, “If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God; and whatsoever we ask, we receive of him.” He who has a clear conscience comes to God with confidence, and that confidence of faith ensures to him the answer of his prayer. Childlike confidence makes us pray as none else can. It makes a man pray for great things, which he would never have asked for if he had not learned this confidence; and makes him pray for little things which a great many are afraid to ask for, because they have not yet felt towards God the confidence of children.

I have often felt that it needs more confidence in God to pray to him about a little thing than about great things. We fancy that our great things are somewhat worthy of God’s regard, though in truth they are little enough to him; and then we imagine that our little things must be so trifling that it would be almost an insult to bring them before him; whereas, we ought to know that what is very great to a child may be very little to its parent, and yet the parent does not measure the thing from his own point of view but from the child’s. You heard your little boy the other day crying bitterly. His mother called him and asked what ailed him? It was a splinter in his finger. Well, that was a small affair, you did not want to call in three surgeons to extract it, or raise a hue and cry in the public press. Bring a needle, and we will soon set it right. Oh, but what a great thing it was to that pretty little sufferer, as he stood there with eyes all wet with tears of anguish. It was a great concern to him.

Now, did it occur to that boy that his pain was too small a thing, for his mother to attend to? Not at all; what were mothers and fathers made for but to look after the little wants of little children? And God our Father is a good father, he pities us as fathers pity their children, and condescends to us. He tells the number of the stars, and calls them all by their names, yet he heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds. The same God who kindles the sun, has said, “I will not quench the smoking flax.” If you have but confidence in God, you will take your great things and your little things to him, and he will never belie your confidence, for he has said they that trust in him shall never be ashamed or confounded, world without end. Faith must succeed.

But next, love must succeed too, since we have already seen that the man who loves in the Christian sense is in accord with God. If you confine your love to your own family, you must not expect God to do so, and prayers narrowed within that circle he will disregard. If a man loves his own little self, and hopes everybody’s crop of wheat will fail, that his own produce may fetch a higher price, he certainly cannot expect the Lord to agree with such mean selfishness. If a man has heart enough to embrace all the creatures of God in his affection, while he yet prays specially for the household of faith, his prayers will be consistent with the Divine mind. His love and God’s goodness run side by side. Though God’s love is like a mighty rolling river, and his is like a trickling brooklet, yet they both run in the same direction, and will both come to the same end. God always hears the prayers of a loving man, because those prayers are the shadows of his own decrees.

Again, the man of obedience is the man whom God will hear, because his obedient heart leads him to pray humbly, and with submission, for he feels it to be his highest desire that the Lord’s will should be done. Hence it is that the man of obedient heart prays like an oracle; his prayers are prophecies. Is he not one with God? Does he not desire and ask for exactly what God intends? How can a prayer shot from such a bow ever fail to reach its target? If your soul gets into accord with God’s soul, you will wish God’s own wishes. The difficulty is that we do not keep, as the word is, en rapport with God; if we did, then we should strike the same note as God strikes; and though his would sound like thunder, and ours as a whisper, yet there would be a perfect unison— the note struck by prayer on earth would coincide with that which sounds forth from the decrees in heaven.

Again, the man who lives in fellowship with God will assuredly speed in prayer, because, if he dwells in God, and God dwells in him, he will desire what God desires. The believer in communion with the Lord desires man’s good, and so does God; he desires Christ’s glory, and so does God; he desires the church’s prosperity, and so does God; he desires himself to be a pattern of holiness, and God desires it too. If that man at any time has a desire which is not according to God’s will, it is the result of ignorance, seeing that man is but man, and not God, even when he is at the best he must err; but he provides for this defect by the form of his prayer, which always has this addendum at the end of it— “Lord, if I have asked, in this my prayer, for anything which is not according to your mind, I beseech you, do not regard me; and if any wish which I have expressed to you— even though it be the desire which burns in my bosom above all other wishes— be a wish that is not right in your sight, regard me not, my Father, but, in your infinite love and compassion, do something better for your servant than your servant knows how to ask.” Now, when a prayer is after that fashion, how can it fail? The Lord looks out of the windows of heaven and sees such a prayer coming to him, just as Noah saw the dove returning to the ark, and he puts out his hand to that prayer, and as Noah plucked the dove into the ark, so does God pluck that prayer in unto him, and put it into his own bosom, and say, “You came out of my bosom, and I welcome you back to me: my Spirit gave you expression, therefore will I answer you.”

And here, again, let us say, our text speaks of the Christian man as being filled with God’s Spirit: “We know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” Who knows the mind of a man but the spirit of a man? So, who knows the things of God but the Spirit of God? And if the Spirit of God dwells in us, then he tells us what God’s mind is; he makes intercession in the saints according to the will of God. It is sometimes imagined that men who have prevalence in prayer can pray for what they like; but I can assure you any one of these will tell you that that is not so. You may call upon such a man and ask him to pray for you, but he cannot promise that he will. There are strange holdings back to such men, when they feel, they know not how or why, that they cannot pray effectual fervent prayers in certain cases, though they might desire to do so. Like Paul, when he attempted to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit did not allow him; so there are requests which we would naturally like to put up, but we are bound in spirit. There may apparently be nothing objectionable about the prayer; but the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he gives secret intimations when and where his chosen may hope to prevail. He gives you the promise that he will hear your believing prayer, you being a man that walks with him, filled with his Spirit; but he does not at the same time give you faith about every thing that everybody likes to put before you: on the contrary he gives you a discretion, a judgment, and a wisdom, and the Spirit makes intercession in the saints according to the will of God.

Thus I think I have laid down the doctrine pretty clearly. Now a few minutes of practical improvement, as the old Puritans used to say. I only wish it may be of improvement to many of us.

The first is, we want to pray for a great blessing as a church. I think I should command your suffrages if I said we intend to pray God to send a blessing on the church at large. Very well. Have we the essentials for success? Are we believing in the name of Jesus Christ? Well, I think we are. I do not think fault could be found with the soundness of our faith, though much is to be confessed about the weakness of it. Let us pass on to the next question. Are we full of love to God and one another? The double commandment is, that we believe on the name of Jesus Christ and that we love one another. Do we love one another? Are we walking in love? There are none of us perfect in it. I will begin to confess by acknowledging I am not what I should be in that respect. Will you let the confession go round, and each one think how often we have done unloving things, and thought unloving things, and said unloving things, and listened to unloving gossip, and held back our hand unlovingly when we ought to have rendered help, and put forth our hand unlovingly to push down a man who was falling?

If in the church of God there is a lack of love, we cannot expect prayer to be heard, for God will say, “you ask for prosperity. What for? To add more to a community which does not already love itself! You ask for conversions. What! to bring in others to join an unloving community.” Do you expect God to save sinners whom you do not love, and to convert souls whom you do not care a bit about? We must love souls into Christ, for, under God’s Holy Spirit, the great instrument for the conquest of the world is love, and if Christians will love more than Mahommedans do, and Jews do, they will overcome Mahommedans and Jews; and if they show less love, Mahommedans and Jews will overcome them. The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, is the master weapon, and next to that, is the loving conduct and generous ways of Christians towards their fellow-men. How much of that have we got? Shall I say, how little?

Next, are we doing that which is pleasing in God’s sight? We cannot expect answers to prayer if we are not. Put the enquiry to yourselves all round. Let each church member, especially, answer that question. Have you been doing lately that which you would like Jesus Christ to see? Is your household ordered in such a way that it pleases God? Suppose Jesus Christ had visited your house this week, uninvited and unexpected: what would he have thought of that which he would have seen? “Oh,” says one, “I know so-and-so acts very inconsistently.” Sir, I pray you think of yourself! There is the point. Correct yourself. Unless the members of God’s church do that which is pleasing in his sight, they bar the door against prosperity; they prevent the prayers of the church from succeeding. Who wishes to be the man that stands in the way of the prosperity of God’s church through inconsistency of conduct? Who would be so guilty? God forgive some of you. We could speak of some even weeping, for, alas! though they profess to be the followers of Christ, they are so inconsistent that they are not friends, but enemies of the cross of Christ.

The next question is, do we dwell in God? The text says that if we keep his commandments God dwelleth in us and we in him. Is that so? I mean, during the day do we think of God? In our business are we still with God? A Christian is not to run unto God in the morning, and again at night, and use him as a shelter and a makeshift, as people do of an arch or a portico which they run under in a shower of rain; but we are to dwell in God, and live in him, from the rising of the sun until the going down thereof, making him our daily meditation, and walking as in his sight, feeling evermore, “Thou God seest me.” How is it with you, dear friends! O, let the question go from pew to pew and heart to heart, and mind— let each one answer for himself.

Lastly, does the Spirit of God actuate us, or is it another spirit? Do we wait upon God and say, “Lord, let your Spirit tell me what to say in this case, and what to do; rule my judgment, subdue my passions, keep down my baser impulses, and let your Spirit guide me. Lord, be thou to me better than myself; be soul and life to me, and in the triple kingdom of my spirit, soul, and body, good Lord, be thou supreme Master, that in every province of my nature your law may be set up, and your will may be regarded.” We should have a mighty church if we were all of this mind; but the mixed multitude are with us, the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt, and these fall a-lusting; the mischief always begins with them. God save us as a church from losing his presence! The mixed multitude must be with us to test us, for the Lord has said, “Let both grow together till the harvest,” and if we try to root up the tares we should root up the wheat also,— yet, at any rate, let us pray God to make the wheat be the stronger.

One of two things always happens in a church. Either the wheat chokes the weeds or the weeds choke the wheat. God grant that the wheat may overtop the weeds in our case. God grant grace to his servants to be strong enough to overcome the evil which surrounds them, and, having done all, to stand to the praise of the glory of his grace, who also hath made us accepted in the Beloved. The Lord bless you, and be with you evermore. Amen and Amen.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Does The Bible Teach a Literal Hell?

Someone referred me to a girl on TikTok named Apostate Ashley, specifically to a video of hers wherein she outlines a number of reasons why she deconverted from Christianity to atheism. The video is very scattergun in its presentation. She doesn’t go into much detail about each point. Which is fine, it’s TikTok. But I still felt she gave a useful summary of a lot of the different challenges leveled against Christianity by skeptics, and so I think her video is worth using as a foil for making counter-arguments.

I don’t know if I will end up responding to all of her points, but I at least want to make a start of it. Her first point is about hell, and here’s what she says.

“Here are some of the things from the Bible that made me skeptical. The very first was the doctrine of hell. . . . I looked into the original words that hell was translated from – Sheol, Gehenna, Tartarus, Hades – realizing that there was no reason to believe in a literal hell. Any literal translations of the Bible have zero mentions of hell. Jesus never mentions hell and Paul never mentions hell. Within the Bible, there is never mention of a torturous hell. That comes from the Greek beliefs of Hades.”

The first thing to note is that she’s not making a moral argument against hell. For most people, the idea of hell is simply disturbing, and rightly so. It should evoke that kind of reaction. But for some, this becomes their reason for rejecting the idea altogether. They refuse to believe in such a place, and that God would send people there. They reject hell on moral grounds. 

But that’s not where Ashley is coming from, at least not in this particular instance. Instead of making a moral argument against hell, she’s actually making an enormously more difficult argument: that the Bible doesn’t speak about hell. Long story short, I find that to be an indefensible claim. To be fair, she says some things that are true to an extent, but she then makes a major leap to what I believe is an untenable conclusion.

She starts by mentioning the relevant Hebrew and Greek terms, which she’s right about. Sheol is the Hebrew term used in the Old Testament to refer generally to the place of the dead. Some people would even say that Sheol is simply a poetic way of referring to the grave. In Genesis, whenever Jacob thought his son Joseph had died, he says, “I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” It’s another way of saying “I will go to the grave” or “the place of the dead.” Everybody eventually goes to Sheol, because everybody eventually dies.

In the New Testament, the Greek equivalent of Sheol is Hades. Psalm 16:10 is a good example of this. “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” In the original Hebrew of the psalm, the word Sheol is used. But in the New Testament, whenever Peter quotes the same verse in Greek, he says Hades instead of Sheol (Acts 2:27). He applies the verse to Jesus, who died and went to the grave (Sheol/Hades), but he was not left there. God raised him from the dead.

The tricky thing about Sheol/Hades is that it doesn’t seem to be strictly for the wicked. Apparently it’s a place where the righteous go as well. As I mentioned earlier, all people go there, because all people die. The evidence suggests that Hades is a place of torment for the wicked, but somehow simultaneously a place of peace for the righteous (Luke 16:19–31). Yet in either case, Hades is temporary. The Bible is clear about a future resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Jesus said, “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

In other words, both groups will be brought back from the place of the dead (Sheol/Hades), and the righteous will enter into eternal life in heaven while the wicked will step into eternal judgment, which is hell. I suppose we could think of Sheol/Hades as a temporary holding place for all who die, until we’re all resurrected again and taken to our final destinations.

So let me tie this back to Ashley’s argument. She mentioned that Sheol and Hades are words that are translated as hell, and she’s right about that to an extent. But that was generally an older choice of translation. For example, the King James Version translates Sheol and Hades as hell very regularly. In fact, Hades is always translated as hell in the KJV. But most modern translations will simply leave these words as is: Sheol and Hades. They are not given an English equivalent, presumably because there really isn’t an English equivalent.

And I believe that’s a wise translation choice. Because we have to consider what the English word hell means. Any standard English dictionary will reflect that hell is understood as the fiery place of judgment where the wicked are punished after death. Fire, judgment, wicked, punishment – these are the ideas everyone associates with hell. So if Sheol and Hades gets translated as hell, then English readers will naturally import all of those connotations into this pair of Hebrew/Greek words which actually don’t always convey those things. And that could be misleading. So I think it’s probably better if we just call it Sheol or Hades.

With all that said, I could be wrong in some of the things I’ve said about Sheol/Hades. One of the main disputable points among Christians is whether or not the righteous go there along with the wicked. I’ve read other sources that say it’s only the wicked who go there, and they make some worthwhile points too. In any case, I’m not ashamed to admit that my understanding of Sheol/Hades is relatively murky.

Gehenna, however, is an entirely different story, and this is where I think Ashley’s claims fall apart. The term Gehenna is used 12 times in the New Testament. Eleven of those usages are from Jesus, and one is from James. It’s virtually always translated as hell, in both old and modern translations.

Here’s one example from Jesus: “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:47–48).

Many people have pointed out that Gehenna was the name of a waste dump outside of Jerusalem, and that’s true based on what I’ve read. But it seems obvious to me that Jesus was utilizing the term as a metaphor for something more significant and more severe. He wasn’t just saying “you’ll be thrown into the garbage dump.” He describes this as a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched, in other words, it’s a place of eternal suffering that can’t be escaped.

And even in places where Jesus doesn’t use the specific term Gehenna, he’s clearly referring to the same reality. For example, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). He doesn’t use the word Gehenna, but there’s no reason to think he’s talking about a different place. The descriptions clearly match: fire, judgment, eternality, the wicked are sent there, etc.

So what exactly does Apostate Ashley mean when she says the Bible doesn’t give us any reason to believe in a literal hell? Is she just saying the English word hell doesn’t appear in the original languages of the Bible? If that’s what she’s saying, then of course she’s right. But it’s not a significant point.

It would be like claiming the Bible never says anything about love, because the Bible uses the words agape, phileo, etc, and never the English word love. But that can’t be taken seriously. The whole concept of translation, by definition, means taking the words of one language and converting them to different (but equivalent) words in another language. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you call it Gehenna or hell. The reality behind the word is what matters, and that’s something the Bible could not be more clear about.

I’ll just briefly say something about Tartarus, because it’s almost completely absent from the Bible. The proper-noun form actually doesn’t appear at all. But there is one verse in the New Testament where Peter uses a verb that’s related to Tartarus. “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). The verb that’s translated “cast them into hell” is tartarosas (which sounds way too much like tartar sauce). So you could think of this as Peter saying that God “tartarus-ed” the fallen angels.

But I don’t see any reason to take this as referencing a different place than what Jesus called Gehenna. Think back to the fact that Jesus described Gehenna as “prepared for the devil and his angels,” which is very much in line with what Peter says about Tartarus here. Based on what I’ve read, Gehenna was the term more likely to be used by Jews, while Tartarus was the more common word among Greeks. But the terms were functionally equivalent.

In conclusion, I believe the Bible does teach a literal hell, and very clearly so. If I were Ashley, I would abandon trying to convince people that the Bible doesn’t speak about hell. To be honest, I think that’s just too difficult of a case to make. And besides, Ashley is eventually going to say she rejects the Bible as the word of God because it was written by men. So that means even if Ashley were to become convinced that the Bible does in fact clearly teach the traditional doctrine of hell, she still wouldn’t believe it.

Talking about hell is not exactly comfortable, but the best thing about having an open, honest, and biblical discussion about these things is that it’s an opportunity to be reminded of what Christ rescues sinners from. Hell is the fate that every one of us deserves based on our own deeds. The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Our sins are forgiven and we receive the free gift of eternal life by trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross, and surrendering our lives to him. When you have eternal life in Christ, that means there’s no more fear of death, and no more fear of hell.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

“A Mighty Saviour” | Charles Spurgeon Sermon (Historic Homilies)

Note: This version of the text contains minor changes I made while recording the sermon. Some of these changes were accidental reading errors, while others were intentional in order to aid understanding.

 “A Mighty Saviour”
by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
January 4, 1857

Mighty to save.” – Isaiah 63:1

This, of course, refers to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who is described as “coming from Edom with dyed garments from Bozrah,” and who, when it is questioned who he is, replies, “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” It will be well, then, at the commencement of our discourse to make one or two remarks concerning the mysteriously complex person of the man and God whom we call our Redeemer, Jesus Christ our Saviour. It is one of the mysteries of the Christian religion, that we are taught to believe that Christ is God, and yet a man. According to Scripture, we hold that he is “very God,” equal and co-eternal with the Father, possessing, as his Father does, all divine attributes in an infinite degree. He participated with his Father in all the acts of his divine might; he was concerned in the decree of election, in the fashioning of the covenant; in the creation of the angels, in the making of the world, when it was wheeled from nothing into space, and in the ordering of this fair frame of nature. Before any of these acts the divine Redeemer was the eternal Son of God. “From everlasting to everlasting he is God.” Nor did he cease to be God when he became man. He was equally “God over all, blessed for evermore,” when he was “the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” as before his incarnation. We have abundant proof of that in the constant affirmations of Scripture, and, indeed, also in the miracles which he wrought. The raising of the dead, the treading of the billows of the ocean, the hushing of the winds and the rending of the rocks, with all those marvellous acts of his, which we have not time here to mention, were strong and potent proofs that he was God, most truly God, even when he condescended to be man. And Scripture, most certainly teaches us, that he is God now, that he shares the throne of his Father—that he sits “high above all principalities and powers, and every name that is named,” and is the true and proper object of the veneration, the worship, and the homage of all worlds.

We are equally taught to believe that he is man. Scripture informs us that, on a day appointed, he came from heaven and did become man as well as God, taking upon himself the nature of a babe in the manger in Bethlehem. From that babe, we are told, he did grow to the stature of manhood, and became “bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh,” in everything except our sin. His sufferings, his hunger, above all, his death and burial, are strong proofs that he was man, most truly man; and yet it is demanded of us by the Christian religion, to believe, that while he was man he was most truly God. We are taught that he was a “child born, a son given,” and yet, at the same time, the “Wonderful, the Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father.” Whosoever would have clear and right views of Jesus, must not mingle his natures. We must not consider him as a God diluted into deified manhood, or as a mere man officially exalted to the Godhead, but as being two distinct natures in one person; not God melted into man, nor man made into God, but man and God taken into union together. Therefore, do we trust in him, as the Arbiter, the Mediator, Son of God, and Son of Man. This is the person who is our Saviour. It is this glorious, yet mysterious being, of whom the text speaks, when it says, he is mighty—“mighty to save.”

That he is mighty we need not inform you; for as readers of the Scriptures you all believe in the might and majesty of the Incarnate Son of God. You believe him to be the Regent of providence, the King of death, the Conqueror of hell, the Lord of angels, the Master of storms, and the God of battles, and, therefore, you can need no proof that he is mighty. The subject of this morning is one part of his mightiness. He is “mighty to save.” May God the Holy Spirit help us in briefly entering upon this subject, and make use of it to the salvation of our souls!

First, we shall consider what is meant by the words “to save;” secondly, how we prove the fact that he is “mighty to save;” thirdly, the reason why he is “mighty to save;” and then, fourthly, the inferences which are to be deduced from the doctrine that Jesus Christ is “mighty to save.”

I. First, then, what are we to understand by the words “to save?” Commonly, most men, when they read these words, consider them to mean salvation from hell. They are partially correct, but the notion is highly defective. It is true Christ does save men from the penalty of their guilt; he does take those to heaven who deserve the eternal wrath and displeasure of the Most High; it is true that he does blot out “iniquity, transgression, and sin,” and that the iniquities of the remnant of his people are passed over for the sake of his blood and atonement. But that is not the whole meaning of the words “to save.” This deficient explanation lies at the root of mistakes which many theologians have made, and by which they have surrounded their system of divinity with mist. They have said that to save is to pluck men as brands from the burning—to save them from destruction if they repent. Now, it means vastly, I had almost said, infinitely more than this. “To save” means something more than just delivering penitents from going down to hell. By the words “to save,” I understand the whole of the great work of salvation, from the first holy desire, the first [holy] conviction, onward to complete sanctification. All this done by God through Jesus Christ. Christ is not only mighty to save those who do repent, but he is able to make men repent; he is engaged not merely to carry those to heaven who believe, but he is mighty to give men new hearts and to work faith in them; he is mighty not merely to give heaven to one who wishes for it, but he is mighty to make the man who hates holiness love it, to constrain the despiser of his name to bend his knee before him, and to make the most abandoned reprobate turn from the error of his ways.

By the words “to save,” I do not understand what some men say they mean. They tell us in their divinity that Christ came into the world to put all men into a savable state—to make the salvation of all men possible by their own exertions. I believe that Christ came for no such thing—that he came into the world not to put men into a savable state, but into a saved state; not to put them where they could save themselves, but to do the work in them and for them, from the first even to the last. If I believe that Christ came only to put you, my hearers, and myself into a state where we might save ourselves, I should give up preaching henceforth and for ever; for knowing a little of the wickedness of men’s hearts, because I know something of my own—knowing how much men naturally hate the religion of Christ—I should despair of any success in preaching a gospel which I had only to offer, its effects depending upon the voluntary acceptance of it by unrenewed and unregenerate men. If I did not believe that there was a might going forth with the word of Jesus, which makes men willing in the day of his power, and which turns them from the error of their ways by the mighty, overwhelming, constraining force of a divine and mysterious influence, I should cease to glory in the cross of Christ. Christ, we repeat, is mighty, not merely to put men into a savable condition, but mighty absolutely and entirely to save them. This fact I regard as one of the grandest proofs of the divine character of the Bible revelation. I have many a time had doubts and fears, as most of you have had; and where is the strong believer that has not sometimes wavered? I have said, within myself, “Is this religion true, which, day after day, I incessantly preach to the people? Is it the correct one? Is it true that this religion has an influence upon mankind?” And I will tell you how I have reassured myself. I have looked upon the hundreds, nay, upon the thousands whom I have around me, who were once the vilest of the vile—drunkards, swearers, and such like—and I now see them “clothed and in their right mind, walking in holiness and in the fear of God; and I have said, within myself, “This must be the truth, then, because I see its marvellous effects. It is true, because it is efficient for purposes which error never could accomplish. It exerts an influence among the lowest order of mortals, and over the most abominable of our race. It is a power, an irresistible agent of good; who then shall deny its truth. I take it that the highest proof of Christ’s power is not that he offers salvation, not that he bids you take it if you will, but that when you reject it, when you hate it, when you despise it, he has a power whereby he can change your mind, make you think differently from your former thoughts, and turn you from the error of your ways. This I conceive to be the meaning of the text: “mighty to save.”

But it is not all the meaning. Our Lord is not only mighty to make men repent, to quicken the dead in sin, to turn them from their follies and their iniquities. But he is exalted to do more than that: he is mighty to keep them Christians after he has made them so, and mighty to preserve them in his fear and love, until he consummates their spiritual existence in heaven. Christ’s might does not lie in making a believer, and then leaving him to shift for himself afterwards; but he who begins the good work carries it on; he who imparts the first germ of life which quickens the dead soul, gives afterwards the life which prolongs the divine existence, and bestows that mighty power which at last bursts asunder every bond of sin, and lands the soul [perfectly] in glory. We hold and teach, and we believe upon Scriptural authority, that all men unto whom Christ has given repentance must infallibly hold on their way. We do believe that God never begins a good work in a man without finishing it; that he never makes a man truly alive to spiritual things without carrying on that work in his soul even to the end, by giving him a place amongst the choirs of the sanctified. We do not think that Christ’s power dwells in merely bringing me one day into grace, and then telling me to keep myself there, but in so putting me into a gracious state, and giving me such an inward life and such a power within myself that I can no more turn back than the very sun in the heavens can stay itself in its course, or cease to shine. Beloved, we regard this as signified by the terms “mighty to save.” This is commonly called Calvinistic doctrine; [and] it is none other than Christian doctrine, the doctrine of the holy Bible; for despite that it is now called Calvinism, it could not be so called in Augustine’s days; and yet in Augustine’s works you find the very same things. And it is not to be called Augustinism; it is to be found in the writings of the apostle Paul. And yet it was not called Paulism, simple for this reason, that it is the expansion, the fulness of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To repeat what we have before said, we hold and boldly teach that Jesus Christ is not merely able to save men who put themselves in his way and who are willing to be saved, but that he is able to make men willing—that he is able to make the drunkard renounce his drunkenness and come to him—that he is able to make the despiser bend his knee, and make hard hearts melt before his love. Now, it is ours to show that he is able to do so.

II. How can we prove that Christ is “mighty to save?” We will give you the strongest argument first; and we shall need but one. The argument is, that he has done it. We need no other; it were superfluous to add another. He has saved men. He has saved them, in the full extent and meaning of the word which we have endeavoured to explain. But in order to set this truth in a clear light, we will suppose the worst of cases. It is very easy to imagine, say some, that when Christ’s gospel is preached to some here who are amiable and lovely, and have always been trained up in the fear of God, they will receive the gospel in the love of it. Very well, then we will not take such a case. You see this South Sea Islander. He has just been eating a diabolical meal of human flesh; he is a cannibal; at his belt are slung the scalps of men whom he has murdered, and in whose blood he glories. If you land on the coast he will eat you, too, unless you mind what you are after. That man bows himself before a block of wood. He is a poor ignorant debased creature, but very little removed from the brute. Now, has Christ’s gospel power to tame that man, to take the scalps from his girdle, to make him give up his bloody practices, renounce his gods, and become a civilised and Christian man?

You know, my dear friends, you talk about the power of education in England; there may be a great deal in it; education may do very much for some who are here, not in a spiritual, but in a natural way; but what would education do with this savage: go and try. Send the best schoolmaster in England over to him: he will eat him before the day is up. That will be all the good of it. But if the missionary goes with Christ’s gospel, what will become of him? Why, in multitudes of cases, he has been the pioneer of civilisation, and under the providence of God has escaped a cruel death. He goes with love in his hands and in his eyes; he speaks to the savage. And mark you, we are telling facts now, not dreams. The savage drops his tomahawk. Says he, “It is marvellous; the things that this man tells me are wonderful, I will sit down and listen.” He listens, and the tears roll down his cheeks; a feeling of humanity which never burned within his soul before is kindled in him. He says, “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ;” and soon he is clothed and in his right mind, and becomes in every respect a man—such a man as we could desire all men to be.

Now, we say, that this is proof that Christ’s gospel does not come to the mind that is prepared for it, but prepares the mind for itself; that Christ does not merely put the seed into the ground that has been prepared beforehand, but ploughs the ground too—ay, and harrows it, and does the whole of the work. He is so able to do all this. Ask our missionaries who are in Africa, in the midst of the greatest barbarians in the world—ask them whether Christ’s gospel is able to save, and they will point to the huts of the Hottentot, and then they will point to the houses of the Kuraman, and they will say, “What has made this difference, but the word of the gospel of Christ Jesus?” Yes, dear brethren, we have had proofs enough in heathen countries; and why need we say more, but merely to add this—we have had proofs enough at home. There are some who preach a gospel which is very well fitted to train man in morals, but utterly unfitted to save him, a gospel which does well enough to keep men sober when they have become drunkards. It is a good thing enough to supply them with a kind of life, when they have it already, but not to quicken the dead and save the soul, and it can give up to despair the very character whom Christ’s gospel was most of all intended to affect. I could a tale unfold, of some who have plunged head-first into the blackest gulfs of sin, which would horrify you and me, if we could allow them to recount their guilt. I could tell you how they have come into God’s house with their teeth set against the minister, determined that say what he would they might listen, but it would be to scoff. They stayed a moment; some word arrested their attention; they thought within themselves, “I will hear that sentence.” It was some pointed, terse saying, that entered into their souls. The knew not how it was, but they were spell-bound, and stood to listen a little longer; and by-and-bye, unconsciously to themselves, the tears began to fall, and when they went away, they had a strange, mysterious feeling about them that led them to their chambers. Down they fell on their knees; the story of their life was all told before God; he gave them peace through the blood of the Lamb, and they went to God’s house, many of them to say, “Come and hear what God has done for my soul,” and to

“Tell to sinners round
What a dear Saviour they had found.”

Remember the case of John Newton, the great and mighty preacher of St. Mary, Woolnoth,—an instance of the power of God to change the heart, as well as to give peace when the heart is changed. Ah! dear hearers, I often think within myself, “This is the greatest proof of the Saviour’s power.” Let another doctrine be preached: will it do the same? If it will, why not let every man gather a crowd around him and preach it. Will it really do it? If it will, then the blood of men’s souls must rest upon the man who does not boldly proclaim it. If he believes his gospel does save souls, how does he account for it that he stands in his pulpit from the first of January till the last of December, and never hears of a harlot made honest, nor of a drunkard reclaimed? Why? For this reason, that it is a poor dilution of Christianity. It is something like it, but it is not the bold, broad Christianity of the Bible; it is not the full gospel of the blessed God, for that has power to save. But if they do believe that theirs is the gospel, let them come out to preach it, and let them strive with all their might to win souls from sin, which is rife enough, God knows. We say again, that we have proof positive in cases even here before us, that Christ is mighty to save even the worst of men—to turn them from follies in which they have too long indulged, and we believe that the same gospel preached elsewhere would produce the same results.

The best proof you can ever have of God’s being mighty to save, dear hearers, is that he saved you. Ah! my dear hearer, it were a miracle if he should save your fellow that stands by your side; but it were more a miracle if he should save you. What are you this morning? Answer! “I am an infidel,” says one; “I hate and despise Christ’s religion.” But suppose, sir, there should be such a power in that religion that one day you should be brought to believe it! What would you say then? Ah! I know you would be in love with that gospel for ever; for you would say, “I above all men was the last to receive it; and yet here am I, I know not how, brought to love it.” Oh! such a man when constrained to believe makes the most eloquent preacher in the world. “Ah! but,” says another, “I have been a Sabbath-breaker upon principle, I despise the Sabbath, I hate utterly and entirely everything religious.” Well, I can never prove religion to you to be true, unless it should ever lay hold of you, and make you a new man. Then you will say there is something in it. “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen.” When we have felt the change it works in ourselves, then we speak of facts, and not of fancies, and we speak very boldly too. We say again, then, he is “mighty to save.”

III. But now it is asked, why is Christ “mighty to save?” To this there are various answers. First, if we understand the word “save,” in the popular acceptation of the word, which is not, after all, the full one, though a true one—if we understand salvation to mean the pardon of sin and salvation from hell, Christ is mighty to save, because of the infinite efficacy of his atoning blood. Sinner! black as you are with sin, Christ this morning is able to make you whiter than the driven snow. You ask why. I will tell you. He is able to forgive, because he has been punished for your sin. If you do know and feel yourself to be a sinner, if you have no hope or refuge before God but in Christ, then be it known that Christ is able to forgive, because he was once punished for the very sin which you have committed, and therefore he can freely remit, because the punishment has been entirely paid by himself.

Whenever I get on this subject I am tempted to tell a story; and though I have told it times enough in the hearing of many of you, others of you have never heard it, and it is the simplest way I know of setting out the belief I have in the atonement of Christ. Once a poor Irishman came to me in my vestry. He announced himself something in this way: “Your reverence, I’m come to ask you a question.” “In the first place,” said I, “I am not a reverend, nor do I claim the title; and in the next place, why don’t you go and ask your priest that question?” Said he “Well, your riv—sir, I meant—I did go to him but he did not answer me to my satisfaction, exactly; so I have come to ask you, and if you will answer this you will set my mind at peace, for I am much disturbed about it.” “What is the question?” said I. “Why this. You say, and others say too, that God is able to forgive sin. Now, I can’t see how he can be just, and yet forgive sin: for,” said this poor man, “I have been so greatly guilty that if God Almighty does not punish me he ought; I feel that he would not be just if he were to suffer me to go without punishment. How, then, sir, can it be true that he can forgive, and still retain the title of just?” “Well,” said I, “it is through the blood and merits of Jesus Christ.” “Ah!” said he, “but then I do not understand what you mean by that. It is the kind of answer I got from the priest, but I wanted him to explain it to me more fully, how it was that the blood of Christ could make God just. You say it does, but I want to know how.”

“Well, then,” said I, “I will tell you what I think to be the whole system of atonement, which I think is the sum and substance, the root, the marrow, and the essence of all the gospel. This is the way Christ is able to forgive. Suppose,” said I, “you had killed some one. You were a murderer; you were condemned to die, and you deserved it.” “Truly,” said he, “Yes I should deserve it.” “Well, her Majesty is very desirous of saving your life, and yet at the same time universal justice demands that some one should die on account of the deed that is done. Now, how is she to manage?” Said he, “That is the question. I cannot see how she can be inflexibly just, and yet suffer me to escape.” “Well,” said I, “suppose, Pat, I should go to her and say, ‘Here is this poor Irishman, he deserves to be hanged, your Majesty; I don’t want to quarrel with the sentence, because I think it just; but, if you please, I so love him that if you were to hang me instead of him I should be very willing.’ Pat, suppose she should agree to it, and hang me instead of you; what then? would she be just in letting you go?” “Ay,” said he, “I should think she would. Would she hang two for one thing? I should say not. I’d walk way, and there isn’t a policeman that would touch me for it.” “Ah!” said I, “that is how Jesus saves. ‘Father,’ he said, ‘I love these poor sinners; let me suffer instead of them!’ ‘Yes,’ said God, ‘thou shalt;’ and on the tree he died, and suffered the punishment which all his elect people ought to have suffered; so that now all who believe on him, thus proving themselves to be his chosen, may conclude that he was punished for them, and that therefore they can never be punished.” “Well,” said he, looking me in the face once more, “I understand what you mean; but how is it, if Christ died for all men, that notwithstanding, some men are punished again? For that is unjust.” “Ah!” said I, “I never told you that. I say to you that he has died for all that believe on him, and all who repent, and that he was punished for their sins so absolutely and so really, that none of them shall ever be punished again.” “Truly,” said the man, clapping his hands, “that’s the gospel; if it isn’t, then I don’t know anything, for no man could have made that up; it is so wonderful. Ah!” he said, as he went down the stairs, “Pat’s safe now; with all his sins about him he’ll trust in the man that died for him, and so he shall be saved.” Dear hearer, Christ is mighty to save, because God did not turn away the sword, but he sheathed it in his own Son’s heart; he did not remit the debt, for it was paid in drops of precious blood; and now the great receipt is nailed to the cross, and our sins with it, so that we may go free if we are believers in him. For this reason he is “mighty to save,” in the true sense of the word.

But in the large sense of the word, understanding it to mean all that I have said it does mean, He is “mighty to save.” How is it that Christ is able to make men repent, to make men believe, and to make them turn to God? One answers, “Why by the eloquence of preachers.” God forbid we should ever say that! It is “not by might nor by power.” Others replying, “It is by the force of moral persuasion.” God forbid we should say “ay” to that; for moral persuasion has been tried long enough on man, and yet it has failed of success. How does he do it? We answer, by something which some of you despise, but which, nevertheless, is a fact. He does it by the Omnipotent influence of his Divine Spirit. Whilst men are hearing the word (in those whom God will save) the Holy Spirit works repentance; he changes the heart and renews the soul. True, the preaching is the instrument, but the Holy Spirit is the great agent. It is certain that the truth is the means of saving, but it is the Holy Ghost applying the truth which saves souls. Ah! and with this power of the Holy Ghost we may go to the most debased and degraded of men, and we need not be afraid but that God can save them. If God should please, the Holy Spirit could at this moment make every one of you fall on your knees, confess your sins, and turn to God. He is an Almighty Spirit, able to do wonders. In the life of Whitfield, we read that sometimes under one of his sermons two thousand persons would at once profess to be saved, and were really so, many of them. We ask why it was. At other times he preached just as powerfully, and not one soul was saved. Why? Because in the one case the Holy Spirit went with the Word, and in the other case He did not. All the heavenly result of preaching is owing to the Divine Spirit sent from above. I am nothing; my brethren in the ministry around are all nothing; it is God that does everything. “Who is Paul, who is Apollos, and who is Cephas, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as God gave to every man.” It must be “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” Go forth, poor minister! You have no power to preach with polished diction and elegant refinement; go and preach as you can. The Spirit can make your feeble words more mighty than the most ravishing eloquence. Alas! alas! for oratory! Alas! for eloquence! It has long enough been tried. We have had polished periods, and finely turned sentences; but in what place have the people been saved by them? We have had grand and gaudy language; but where have hearts been renewed! But now, “by the foolishness of preaching,” by the simple utterance by a child of God’s Word, he is pleased to save them that believe and to save sinners from the error of their ways. May God prove his Word again this morning!

IV. The fourth point was, what are the inferences to be derived from the fact that Jesus Christ is mighty to save? Why, first, there is a fact for ministers to learn—that they should endeavour to preach in faith, nothing wavering. “O God,” cries the minister at times, when he is on his knees, “I am weak; I have preached to my hearers, and have wept over them; I have groaned for them; but they will not turn to thee. Their hearts are like the nether mill-stone; they will not weep for sin, nor will they love the Saviour.” Then I think I see the angel standing at his elbow, and whispering in his ear, “You are weak, but he is strong; you can do nothing, but he is ‘mighty to save.’” Think of this yourself. It is not the instrument, but the God. It is not the pen wherewith the author writes which is to have the praise of his wisdom or the making of the volume, but it is the brain that thinks it, and the hand that moves the pen. So in salvation. It is not the minister, it is not the preacher, but the God who first designs the salvation, and afterwards uses the preacher to work it out. Ah! poor disconsolate preacher, if you have had but little fruit of your ministry, go on still in faith, remembering it is written, “My word shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Go on; be of good courage; God shall help you; he shall help you, and that right early.

Again, here is another encouragement for praying men and women, who are praying to God for their friends. Mother, you have been groaning for your son for many a year; he is now grown up and has left your roof, but your prayers have not been heard. So you think. He is as frolicsome as ever; not yet has he made your breast rejoice. Sometimes you think he will bring your grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. It was but yesterday you said, “I will give him up, I will never pray for him again.” Stop, mother, stop! By all that is holy and that is heavenly, stop! Utter not that resolution again; begin once more! You have prayed over him; you did weep over his infant forehead, when he lay in his cradle; you did teach him when he came to years of understanding and you have warned him since; but all of no avail. Oh! give not up thy prayers; for remember, Christ is “mighty to save.” It may be that he waits to be gracious, and he keeps you waiting, that you may know more of his graciousness when the mercy comes. But pray on.

I have heard of mothers who have prayed for their children twenty years; ay, and some who have died without seeing them converted, and then their very death has been the means of saving their children, by leading them to think. A father once had been a pious man for many years, yet never had he the happiness of seeing one of his sons converted. He had his children round his bed, and he said to them when dying, “My sons, I could die in peace, if I could but believe you would follow me to heaven; but this is the most sorrowful thing of all—not that I am dying, but that I am leaving you to meet you no more.” They looked at him, but they would not think on their ways. They went away. Their father was suddenly overtaken with great clouds and darkness of mind; instead of dying peacefully and happily, he died in great misery of soul, but still trusting in Christ. He said, when he died, “Oh! that I had died a happy death, for that would have been a testimony to my sons; but now, O God, this darkness and these clouds have in some degree taken away my power to witness to the truth of thy religion.” Well, he died, and was buried. The sons came to the funeral. The day after, one of them said to his brother, “Brother, I have been thinking, father was always a pious man, and if his death was yet such a gloomy one, how gloomy must ours be, without God and without Christ!” “Ah!” said the other, “that thought struck me too.” They went up to God’s house, heard God’s Word, they came home and bent their knee in prayer, and to their surprise they found that the rest of the family had done the same, and that the God who had never answered the father’s prayer in his life had answered it after his death, and by his death too, and by such a death as would appear to be most unlikely to have wrought the conversion of any. Pray on, then, my sister; pray on, my brother! God shall yet bring your sons and daughters to his love and fear, and you shall rejoice over them in heaven, if you never do on earth.

And finally, my dear hearers, there are many of you here this morning who have no love to God, no love to Christ; but you have a desire in your hearts to love him. You are saying, “Oh! can he save me? Can such a wretch as I be saved?” In the thick of the crowd there you are standing, and you are now saying within yourself, “May I one day sing among the saints above? May I have all my sins blotted out by blood divine?” “Yes, sinner, he is ‘mighty to save;’ and this is comfort for you.” Do you think yourself the worst of men? Does conscience smite you as with a mailed fist, and does he say it is all over with you; you will be lost; your repentance will be of no avail; your prayers never will be heard; you are lost to all intents and purposes? My hearer, think not so. He is “mighty to save.” If you cannot pray, he can help you to do it; if you cannot repent, he can give you repentance; if you feel it hard to believe, he can help you to believe, for he is exalted on high to give repentance, as well as to give remission of sins. O poor sinner, trust in Jesus; cast yourself on him. Cry, and may God help you to do it now, the first Sabbath of the year; may he help you this very day to cast your soul on Jesus; and this will be one of the best years of all your life. “Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Turn unto Jesus, you wearied souls; come unto him, for lo, he bids you come. “The Spirit and the bride say come; and let him that heareth say come; and whosoever will let him come and take of the water of life,” and have Christ’s grace freely. It is preached to you, and to all of you who are willing to receive it, it has been already given.

May God of his grace make you willing, and so save your souls, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.