Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Sermons to the Natural Man by William G.T. Shedd

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Amsterdam, Paris, London,--it is the world and not the people of God who
have had the purse, and have borne what is put therein. Satan is described
in Scripture, as the "prince of this world" (John xiv. 30); and his words
addressed to the Son of God are true: "All this power and glory is
delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it." In the parable
from which we are discoursing, the sinful man was the rich man, and the
child of God was the beggar. And how often do we see, in every-day
life, a faithful, prayerful, upright, and pure-minded man, toiling in
poverty, and so far as earthly comforts are concerned enjoying little or
nothing, while a selfish, pleasure-seeking, and profligate man is
immersed in physical comforts and luxuries. The former is receiving evil
things, and the latter is receiving good things, in this life.

Again, how often it happens that a fine physical constitution, health,
strength, and vigor, are given to the worldling, and are denied to the
child of God. The possession of worldly good is greatly enhanced in
value, by a fine capability of enjoying it. When therefore we see wealth
joined, with health, and luxury in all the surroundings and appointments
combined with taste to appreciate them and a full flow of blood to enjoy
them, or access to wide and influential circles, in politics and fashion,
given to one who is well fitted by personal qualities to move in
them,--when we see a happy adaptation existing between the man and his
good fortune, as we call it,--we see not only the "good things," but the
"good things" in their gayest and most attractive forms and colors. And
how often is all this observed in the instance of the natural man; and
how often is there little or none of this in the instance of the
spiritual man. We by no means imply, that it is impossible for the
possessor of this world's goods to love mercy, to do justly, and to walk
humbly; and we are well aware that under the garb of poverty and toil
there may beat a murmuring and rebellious heart. But we think that from
generation to generation, in this imperfect and probationary world, it
will be found to be a fact, that when _merely_ earthly and physical good
is allotted in large amounts by the providence of God; that when great
incomes and ample means of luxury are given; in the majority of instances
they are given to the enemies of God, and not to His dear children. So
the Psalmist seems to have thought. "I was envious,"--he says,--"when I
saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death;
but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither
are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as
a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with
fatness; they have more than heart could wish. Behold these are the
_ungodly_ who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily _I_
have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all
day long have _I_ been plagued, and chastened every morning" (Ps.
lxxiii). And it should be carefully noticed, that the Psalmist, even
after further reflection, does not _alter_ his statement respecting the
relative positions of the godly and the ungodly in this world. He sees no
reason to correct his estimate, upon this point. He lets it stand. So far
as this merely _physical_ existence is concerned, the wicked man has the
advantage. It is only when the Psalmist looks _beyond_ this life, that he
sees the compensation, and the balancing again of the scales of eternal
right and justice. "When I thought to know this,"--when I reflected upon
this inequality, and apparent injustice, in the treatment of the friends
and the enemies of God,--"it was too painful for me, until I went into
the sanctuary of God,"--until I took my stand in the _eternal_ world, and
formed my estimate there,--"_then_ understood I their end. Surely thou
didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down to
destruction. How are they brought into desolation as in a moment! They
are utterly consumed with terrors." Dives passes from his fine linen and
sumptuous fare, from his excessive physical enjoyment, to everlasting

II. In the second place, the worldly man _derives more enjoyment from
sin, and suffers less from it_, in this life, than does the child of God.
The really renewed man cannot _enjoy_ sin. It is true that he does sin,
owing to the strength of old habits, and the remainders of his
corruption. But he does not really delight in it; and he says with St.
Paul: "What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I." His sin
is a sorrow, a constant sorrow, to him. He feels its pressure and burden
all his days, and cries: "O wretched man, who shall deliver me from the
body of this death." If he falls into it, he cannot live in it; as a man
may fall into water, but it is not his natural element.

Again, the good man not only takes no real delight in sin, but his
reflections after transgression are very painful. He has a tender
conscience. His senses have been trained and disciplined to discern good
and evil. Hence, the sins that are committed by a child of God are
mourned over with a very deep sorrow. The longer he lives, the more
odious does sin become to him, and the more keen and bitter is his
lamentation over it. Now this, in itself, is an "evil thing." Man was not
made for sorrow, and sorrow is not his natural condition. This wearisome
struggle with indwelling corruption, these reproaches of an impartial
conscience, this sense of imperfection and of constant failure in the
service of God,--all this renders the believer's life on earth a season
of trial, and tribulation. The thought of its lasting forever would be
painful to him; and if he should be told that it is the will of God, that
he should continue to be vexed and foiled through all eternity, with the
motions of sin in his members, and that his love and obedience would
forever be imperfect, though he would be thankful that even this was
granted him, and that he was not utterly cast off, yet he would wear a
shaded brow, at the prospect of an imperfect, though a sincere and a
struggling eternity.

But the ungodly are not so. The worldly man loves sin; loves pleasure;
loves self. And the love is so strong, and accompanied with so much
enjoyment and zest, that it is _lust_, and is so denominated in the
Bible. And if you would only defend him from the wrath of God; if you
would warrant him immunity in doing as he likes; if you could shelter him
as in an inaccessible castle from the retributions of eternity; with what
a delirium of pleasure would he plunge into the sin that he loves. Tell
the avaricious man, that his avarice shall never have any evil
consequences here or hereafter; and with what an energy would he apply
himself to the acquisition of wealth. Tell the luxurious man, full of
passion and full of blood, that his pleasures shall never bring down any
evil upon him, that there is no power in the universe that can hurt him,
and with what an abandonment would he surrender himself to his carnal
elysium. Tell the ambitious man, fired with visions of fame and glory,
that he may banish all fears of a final account, that he may make himself
his own deity, and breathe in the incense of worshipers, without any
rebuke from Him who says: "I am God, and my glory I will not give to
another,"-assure the proud and ambitious man that his sin will never find
him out, and with what a momentum will he follow out his inclination.
For, in each of these instances there is a _hankering_ and a _lust_. The
sin is _loved and revelled in_, for its own deliciousness. The heart is
worldly, and therefore finds its pleasure in its forbidden objects and
aims. The instant you propose to check or thwart this inclination; the
instant you try to detach this natural heart from its wealth, or its
pleasure, or its earthly fame; you discover how closely it clings, and
how strongly it loves, and how intensely it enjoys the forbidden object.
Like the greedy insect in our gardens, it has fed until every fibre and
tissue is colored with its food; and to remove it from the leaf is to
tear and lacerate it.

Now it is for this reason, that the natural man receives "good things,"
or experiences pleasure, in this life, at a point where the spiritual man
receives "evil things," or experiences pain. The child of God does not
relish and enjoy sin in this style. Sin in the good man is a burden; but
in the bad man it is a pleasure. It is all the pleasure he has. And when
you propose to take it away from him, or when you ask him to give it up
of his own accord, he looks at you and asks: "Will you take away the only
solace I have? I have no joy in God. I take no enjoyment in divine
things. Do you ask me to make myself wholly miserable?"

And not only does the natural man enjoy sin, but, in this life, he is
much less troubled than is the spiritual man with reflections and
self-reproaches on account of sin. This is another of the "good things"
which Dives receives, for which he must be "tormented;" and this is
another of the "evil things" which Lazarus receives, for which he must
be "comforted." It cannot be denied, that in this world the child of God
suffers more mental sorrow for sin, in a given period of time, than does
the insensible man of the world. If we could look into the soul of a
faithful disciple of Christ, we should discover that not a day passes, in
which his conscience does not reproach him for sins of thought, word, or
deed; in which he does not struggle with some bosom sin, until he is so
weary that he cries out: "Oh that I had wings like a dove, so that I
might fly away, and be at rest." Some of the most exemplary members of
the Church go mourning from day to day, because their hearts are still so
far from their God and Saviour, and their lives fall so far short of what
they desire them to be.[2] Their experience is not a positively wretched
one, like that of an unforgiven sinner when he is feeling the stings of
conscience. They are forgiven. The expiating blood has soothed the
ulcerated conscience, so that it no longer stings and burns. They have
hope in God's mercy. Still, they are in grief and sorrow for sin; and
their experience, in so far, is not a perfectly happy one, such as will
ultimately be their portion in a better world. "If in this life
only,"--says St. Paul,--"we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most
miserable" (1 Cor. xv. 19).

But the stupid and impenitent man, a luxurious Dives, knows nothing of
all this. His days glide by with no twinges of conscience. What does he
know of the burden of sin? His conscience is dead asleep; perchance
seared as with a hot iron. He does wrong without any remorse; he disobeys
the express commands of God, without any misgivings or self-reproach. He
is "alive, without the law,"-as St. Paul expresses it. His eyes stand out
with fatness; and his heart, in the Psalmist's phrase, "is as fat as
grease" (Ps. cxix. 70). There is no religious sensibility in him. His sin
is a pleasure to him without any mixture of sorrow, because unattended by
any remorse of conscience. He is receiving his "good things" in this
life. His days pass by without any moral anxiety, and perchance as he
looks upon some meek and earnest disciple of Christ who is battling with
indwelling sin, and who, therefore, sometimes wears a grave countenance,
he wonders that any one should walk so soberly, so gloomily, in such a
cheery, such a happy, such a jolly world as this.

It is a startling fact, that those men in this world who have most reason
to be distressed by sin are the least troubled by it; and those who have
the least reason to be distressed are the most troubled by it. The child
of God is the one who sorrows most; and the child of Satan is the one who
sorrows least. Remember that we are speaking only of _this_ life. The
text reads: "Thou _in thy lifetime_ receivedst thy good things, and
likewise Lazarus evil things." And it is unquestionably so. The meek and
lowly disciple of Christ, the one who is most entitled by his character
and conduct to be untroubled by religious anxiety, is the very one who
bows his head as a bulrush, and perhaps goes mourning all his days,
fearing that he is not accepted, and that he shall be a cast-a-way; while
the selfish and thoroughly irreligious man, who ought to be stung through
and through by his own conscience, and feel the full energy of the law
which he is continually breaking,--this man, who of all men ought to be
anxious and distressed for sin, goes through a whole lifetime, perchance,
without any convictions or any fears.

And now we ask, if this state of things ought to last forever? Is it
right, is it just, that sin should enjoy in this style forever and
forever, and that holiness should grieve and sorrow in this style
forevermore? Would you have the Almighty pay a bounty upon
unrighteousness, and place goodness under eternal pains and penalties?
Ought not this state of things to be reversed? When Dives comes to the
end of this lifetime; when he has run his round of earthly pleasure,
faring sumptuously every day, clothed in purple and fine linen, without a
thought of his duties and obligations, and without any anxiety and
penitence for his sins,--when this worldly man has received all his "good
things," and is satiated and hardened by them, ought he not then to be
"tormented?" Ought this guilty carnal enjoyment to be perpetuated through
all eternity, under the government of a righteous and just God? And, on
the other hand, ought not the faithful disciple, who, perhaps, has
possessed little or nothing of this world's goods, who has toiled hard,
in poverty, in affliction, in temptation, in tribulation, and sometimes
like Abraham in the horror of a great darkness, to keep his robes white,
and his soul unspotted from the world,--when the poor and weary Lazarus
comes to the end of this lifetime, ought not his trials and sorrows to
cease? ought he not then to be "comforted" in the bosom of Abraham, in
the paradise of God? There is that within us all, which answers, Yea, and
Amen. Such a balancing of the scales is assented to, and demanded by the
moral convictions. Hence, in the parable, Dives himself is represented as
acquiescing in the eternal judgment. He does not complain of injustice.
It is true, that at first he asks for a drop of water,--for some slight
mitigation of his punishment. This is the instinctive request of any
sufferer. But when his attention is directed to the right and the wrong
of the case; when Abraham reminds him of the principles of justice by
which his destiny has been decided; when he tells him that having taken
his choice of pleasure in the world which he has left, he cannot now have
pleasure in the world to which he has come; the wretched man makes no
reply. There is nothing to be said. He feels that the procedure is just.
He is then silent upon the subject of his own tortures, and only begs
that his five brethren, whose lifetime is not yet run out, to whom there
is still a space left for repentance, may be warned from his own lips not
to do as he has done,--not to choose pleasure on earth as their chief
good; not to take their "good things" in this life. Dives, the man in
hell, is a witness to the justice of eternal punishment.

1. In view of this subject, as thus discussed, we remark in the first
place, that no man can have his "good things," in other words, his chief
pleasure, in _both_ worlds. God and this world are in antagonism. "For
all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes,
and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. If any
man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John i. 15,
16). It is the height of folly, therefore, to suppose that a man can make
earthly enjoyment his chief end while he is upon earth, and then pass to
heaven when he dies. Just so far as he holds on upon the "good things" of
this life, he relaxes his grasp upon the "good things" of the next. No
man is capacious enough to hold both worlds in his embrace. He cannot
serve God and Mammon. Look at this as a _matter of fact_. Do not take it
as a theory of the preacher. It is as plain and certain that you cannot
lay up your treasure in heaven while you are laying it up upon earth,
as it is that your material bodies cannot occupy two portions of space at
one and the same time. Dismiss, therefore, all expectations of being able
to accomplish an impossibility. Put not your mind to sleep with the
opiate, that in some inexplicable manner you will be able to live the
life of a worldly man upon earth, and then the life of a spiritual man in
heaven. There is no alchemy that can amalgamate substances that refuse to
mix. No man has ever yet succeeded, no man ever will succeed, in securing
both the pleasures of sin and the pleasures of holiness,--in living the
life of Dives, and then going to the bosom of Abraham.

2. And this leads to the second remark, that every man must _make his
choice_ whether he will have his "good things" now, or hereafter. Every
man is making his choice. Every man has already made it. The heart is now
set either upon God, or upon the world. Search through the globe, and
you cannot find a creature with double affections; a creature with _two_
chief ends of living; a creature whose treasure is both upon earth and in
heaven. All mankind are single-minded. They either mind earthly things,
or heavenly things. They are inspired with one predominant purpose, which
rules them, determines their character, and decides their destiny. And
in all who have not been renewed by Divine grace, the purpose is a wrong
one, a false and fatal one. It is the choice and the purpose of Dives,
and not the choice and purpose of Lazarus.

3. Hence, we remark in the third place, that it is the duty and the
wisdom of every man to let this world go, and seek his "good things"
_hereafter_. Our Lord commands every man to sit down, like the steward in
the parable, and make an estimate. He enjoins it upon every man to reckon
up the advantages upon each side, and see for himself which is superior.
He asks every man what it will profit him, "if he shall gain the whole
world and lose his own soul; or, what he shall give in exchange for his
soul." We urge you to make this estimate,--to compare the "good things"
which Dives enjoyed, with the "torments" that followed them; and the
"evil things" which Lazarus suffered, with the "comfort" that succeeded
them. There can be no doubt upon which side the balance will fall. And we
urge you to take the "evil things" _now_, and the "good things"
_hereafter_. We entreat you to copy the example of Moses at the court of
the Pharaohs, and in the midst of all regal luxury, who "chose rather to
suffer affliction with the people of God, than enjoy the pleasures of sin
for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ, greater riches than the
treasures in Egypt: _for he had respect unto the recompense of reward_."
Take the _narrow_ way. What though it be strait and narrow; you are not
to walk in it forever. A few short years of fidelity will end the
toilsome pilgrimage; and then you will come put into a "wealthy place."
We might tell you of the _joys_ of the Christian life that are mingled
with its trials and sorrows even here upon earth. For, this race to which
we invite you, and this fight to which we call you have their own
peculiar, solemn, substantial joy. And even their sorrow is tinged with
glory. In a higher, truer sense than Protesilaus in the poem says it of
the pagan elysium, we may say even of the Christian race, and the
Christian fight,

"Calm pleasures there abide--_majestic pains_."[3]

But we do not care, at this point, to influence you by a consideration of
the amount of enjoyment, in _this_ life, which you will derive from a
close and humble walk with God. We prefer to put the case in its baldest
form,--in the aspect in which we find it in our text. We will say nothing
at all about the happiness of a Christian life, here in time. We will
talk only of its tribulations. We will only say, as in the parable, that
there are "evil things" to be endured here upon earth, in return for
which we shall have "good things" in another life. There is to be a
moderate and sober use of this world's goods; there is to be a searching
sense of sin, and an humble confession of it before God; there is to
be a cross-bearing every day, and a struggle with indwelling corruption.
These will cost effort, watchfulness, and earnest prayer for Divine
assistance. We do not invite you into the kingdom of God, without telling
you frankly and plainly beforehand what must be done, and what must be
suffered. But having told you this, we then tell you with the utmost
confidence and assurance, that you will be infinitely repaid for your
choice, if you take your "evil things" in this life, and choose your
"good things" in a future. We know, and are certain, that this light
affliction which endures but for a moment, in comparison with the
infinite duration beyond the tomb, will work out a far more exceeding and
eternal weight of glory. We entreat you to look no longer at the things
which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things that
are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.

Learn a parable from a wounded soldier. His limb must be amputated, for
mortification and gangrene have begun their work. He is told that the
surgical operation, which will last a half hour, will yield him twenty or
forty years of healthy and active life. The endurance of an "evil thing,"
for a few moments, will result in the possession of a "good thing," for
many long days and years. He holds out the limb, and submits to the
knife. He accepts the inevitable conditions under which he finds himself.
He is resolute and stern, in order to secure a great good, in the future.

It is the practice of this same _principle_, though not in the use of the
same kind of power, that we would urge upon you. _Look up to God for
grace and help_, and deliberately forego a present advantage, for the
sake of something infinitely more valuable hereafter. Do not, for the
sake of the temporary enjoyment of Dives, lose the eternal happiness of
Lazarus. Rather, take the place, and accept the "evil things," of the
beggar. _Look up to God for grace and strength_ to do it, and then live
a life of contrition for sin, and faith in Christ's blood. Deny yourself,
and take up the cross daily. Expect your happiness _hereafter_. Lay up
your treasure _above_. Then, in the deciding day, it will be said of you,
as it will be of all the true children of God: "These are they which came
out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them
white in the blood of the Lamb."

[Footnote 1: SHEDD: History of Doctrine, II., 234 sq.]

[Footnote 2: The early religious experience of John Owen furnishes a
striking illustration. "For a quarter of a year, he avoided almost all
intercourse with men; could scarcely be induced to speak; and when he did
say anything, it was in so disordered a manner as rendered him a wonder
to many. Only those who have experienced the bitterness of a wounded
spirit can form an idea of the distress he must have suffered. Compared
with this anguish of soul, all the afflictions which befall a sinner [on
earth] are trifles. One drop of that wrath which shall finally fill the
cup of the ungodly, poured into the mind, is enough to poison all the
comforts of life, and to spread mourning, lamentation, and woe over the
countenance. Though the violence of Owen's convictions had subsided after
the first severe conflict, they still continued to disturb his peace, and
nearly five years elapsed from their commencement before he obtained
solid comfort." ORME: Life of Owen, Chap. I.]

[Footnote 3: WORDSWORTH: Laodamia.]


ROMANS ix. 15.--"For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will
have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."

This is a part of the description which God himself gave to Moses, of His
own nature and attributes. The Hebrew legislator had said to Jehovah: "I
beseech thee show me thy glory." He desired a clear understanding of the
character of that Great Being, under whose guidance he was commissioned
to lead the people of Israel into the promised land. God said to him in
reply: "I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim
the name of the Lord before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will
be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy."[1]

By this, God revealed to Moses, and through him to all mankind, the fact
that He is a merciful being, and directs attention to one particular
characteristic of mercy. While informing His servant, that He
is gracious and clement towards a penitent transgressor, He at the same
time teaches him that He is under no obligation, or necessity, to shew
mercy. Grace is not a debt. "I will have mercy on whom I _will_ have
mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I _will_ have compassion."

The apostle Paul quotes this declaration, to shut the mouth of him who
would set up a claim to salvation; who is too proud to beg for it,
and accept it as a free and unmerited favor from God. In so doing, he
endorses the sentiment. The inspiration of his Epistle corroborates that
of the Pentateuch, so that we have assurance made doubly sure, that this
is the correct enunciation of the nature of mercy. Let us look into this
hope-inspiring attribute of God, under the guidance of this text.

The great question that presses upon the human mind, from age to age, is
the inquiry: Is God a merciful Being, and will He show mercy? Living
as we do under the light of Revelation, we know little of the doubts and
fears that spontaneously rise in the guilty human soul, when it is left
solely to the light of nature to answer it. With the Bible in our hands,
and hearing the good news of Redemption from our earliest years, it seems
to be a matter of course that the Deity should pardon sin. Nay, a certain
class of men in Christendom seem to have come to the opinion that it is
more difficult to prove that God is just, than to prove that He is
merciful.[2] But this is not the thought and feeling of man when outside
of the pale of Revelation. Go into the ancient pagan world, examine the
theologizing of the Greek and Roman mind, and you will discover that the
fears of the justice far outnumbered the hopes of the mercy; that Plato
and Plutarch and Cicero and Tacitus were far more certain that God would
punish sin, than that He would, pardon it. This is the reason that there
is no light, or joy, in any of the pagan religions. Except when religion
was converted into the worship of Beauty, as in the instance of the later
Greek, and all the solemn and truthful ideas of law and justice were
eliminated from it, every one of the natural religions of the globe is
filled with sombre and gloomy hues, and no others. The truest and best
religions of the ancient world were always the sternest and saddest,
because the unaided human mind is certain that God is just, but is not
certain that He is merciful. When man is outside of Revelation, it is by
no means a matter of course that God is clement, and that sin shall be
forgiven. Great uncertainty overhangs the doctrine of the Divine mercy,
from the position of natural religion, and it is only within the province
of revealed truth that the uncertainty is removed. Apart from a distinct
and direct _promise_ from the lips of God Himself that He will forgive
sin, no human creature can be sure that sin will ever be forgiven. Let
us, therefore, look into the subject carefully, and see the reason why
man, if left to himself and his spontaneous reflections, doubts whether
there is mercy in the Holy One for a transgressor, and fears that there
is none, and why a special revelation is consequently required, to dispel
the doubt and the fear.

The reason lies in the fact, implied in the text, that _the exercise of
justice is necessary, while that of mercy is optional_. "I will have
mercy on whom I _please_ to have mercy, and I will have compassion on
whom I _please_ to have compassion." It is a principle inlaid in the
structure of the human soul, that the transgression of law _must_ be
visited with retribution. The pagan conscience, as well as the Christian,
testifies that "the Soul that sinneth it shall die." There is no need of
quoting from pagan philosophers to prove this. We should be compelled
to cite page after page, should we enter upon the documentary evidence.
Take such a tract, for example, as that of Plutarch, upon what he
denominates "the slow vengeance of the Deity;" read the reasons which he
assigns for the apparent delay, in this world, of the infliction of
punishment upon transgressors; and you will perceive that the human
mind, when left to its candid and unbiassed convictions, is certain that
God is a holy Being and will visit iniquity with penalty. Throughout this
entire treatise, composed by a man who probably never saw the Scriptures
of either the New or the Old Dispensation, there runs a solemn and deep
consciousness that the Deity is necessarily obliged, by the principles of
justice, to mete out a retribution to the violator of law. Plutarch is
engaged with the very same question that the apostle Peter takes up, in
his second Epistle, when he answers the objection of the scoffer who
asks: Where is the promise of God's coming in judgment? The apostle
replies to it, by saying that for the Eternal Mind one day is as a
thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, and that therefore "the
Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness;"
and Plutarch answers it in a different manner, but assumes and affirms
with the same positiveness and certainty that the vengeance will
_ultimately come_. No reader of this treatise can doubt for a moment,
that its author believed in the future punishment of the wicked,--and in
the future _endless_ punishment of the incorrigibly wicked, because there
is not the slightest hint or expectation of any exercise of mercy on the
part of this Divinity whose vengeance, though slow, is sure and
inevitable.[3] Some theorists tell us that the doctrine of endless
punishment contradicts the instincts of the natural reason, and that it
has no foundation in the constitution of the human soul. We invite them
to read and ponder well, the speculations of one of the most thoughtful
of pagans upon this subject, and tell us if they see any streaks or rays
of light in it; if they see any inkling, any jot or tittle, of the
doctrine of the Divine pity there. We challenge them to discover in this
tract of Plutarch the slightest token, or sign, of the Divine mercy. The
author believes in a hell for the wicked, and an elysium for the good;
but those who go to hell go there upon principles of _justice_, and those
who go to elysium go there upon the _same_ principles. It is justice that
must place men in Tartarus, and it is justice that must place them in
Elysium. In paganism, men must earn their heaven. The idea of
_mercy_,--of clemency towards a transgressor, of pity towards a
criminal,--is entirely foreign to the thoughts of Plutarch, so far as
they can be gathered from this tract. It is the clear and terrible
doctrine of the pagan sage, that unless a man can make good his claim to
eternal happiness upon the ground of law and justice,--unless he merits
it by good works,--there is no hope for him in the other world.

The idea of a forgiving and tender mercy in the Supreme Being, exercised
towards a creature whom justice would send to eternal retribution,
nowhere appears in the best pagan ethics. And why should it? What
evidence or proof has the human mind, apart from the revelations made to
it in the Old and New Testaments, that God will ever forgive sin, or ever
show mercy? In thinking upon the subject, our reason perceives,
intuitively, that God must of necessity punish transgression; and it
perceives with equal intuitiveness that there is no corresponding
necessity that He should pardon it. We say with confidence and
positiveness: "God must be just;" but we cannot say with any certainty
or confidence at all: "God must be merciful." The Divine mercy is an
attribute which is perfectly free and optional, in its exercises, and
therefore we cannot tell beforehand whether it will or will not be shown
to transgressors. We know nothing at all about it, until we hear some
word from the lips of God Himself upon the point. When He opens the
heavens, and speaks in a clear tone to the human race, saying, "I will
forgive your iniquities," then, and not till then, do they know the fact.
In reference to all those procedures which, like the punishment of
transgression, are fixed and necessary, because they are founded in the
eternal principles of law and justice, we can tell beforehand what the
Divine method will be. We do not need any special revelation, to inform
us that God is a just Being, and that His anger is kindled against
wickedness, and that He will punish the transgressor. This class of
truths, the Apostle informs us, are written in the human constitution,
and we have already seen that they were known and dreaded in the pagan
world. That which God _must_ do, He certainly will do. He _must_ be just,
and therefore He certainly will punish sin, is the reasoning of the human
mind, the-world over, and in every age.[4]

But, when we pass from the punishment of sin to the pardon of it, when we
go over to the merciful side of the Divine Nature, we can come to no
_certain_ conclusions, if we are shut up to the workings of our own
minds, or to the teachings of the world of nature about us. Picture to
yourself a thoughtful pagan, like Solon the legislator of Athens, living
in the heart of heathenism five centuries before Christ, and knowing
nothing of the promise of mercy which broke faintly through the heavens
immediately after the apostasy of the first human pair, and which found
its full and victorious utterance in the streaming, blood of Calvary.
Suppose that the accusing and condemning law written, upon his conscience
had shown its work, and made him conscious of sin. Suppose that the
question had risen within him, whether that Dread Being whom he
"ignorantly worshipped," and against whom he had committed the offence,
would forgive it; was there anything in his own soul, was there anything
in the world around him or above him, that could give him an affirmative
answer? The instant he put the question: Will God _punish_ me for my
transgression? the affirming voices were instantaneous and authoritative.
"The soul that sinneth it shall die" was the verdict that came forth from
the recesses of his moral nature, and was echoed and re-echoed in the
suffering, pain, and physical death of a miserable and groaning world
all around him. But when he put the other question to himself: Will the
Deity _pardon_ me for my transgression? there was no affirmative answer
from any source of knowledge accessible to him. If he sought a reply from
the depths of his own conscience, all that he could hear was the terrible
utterance: "The soul that sinneth it shall die." The human conscience can
no more promise, or certify, the forgiveness of sin, than the ten
commandments can do so. When, therefore, this pagan, convicted of sin,
seeks a comforting answer to his anxious inquiry respecting the Divine
clemency towards a criminal, he is met only with retributive thunders and
lightnings; he hears only that accusing and condemning law which is
written on the heart, and experiences that fearful looking-for of
judgment and fiery indignation which St. Paul describes, in the first
chapter of Romans, as working in the mind of the universal pagan world.

But we need not go to Solon, and the pagan world, for evidence upon this
subject. Why is it that a convicted man under the full light of the
gospel, and with the unambiguous and explicit promise of God to forgive
sins ringing in his ears,--why is it, that even under these favorable
circumstances a guilt-smitten man finds it so difficult to believe that
there is mercy for him, and to trust in it? Nay, why is it that he finds
it impossible fully to believe that Jehovah is a sin-pardoning God,
unless he is enabled so to do by the Holy Ghost? It is because he knows
that God is under a necessity of punishing his sin, but is under no
necessity of pardoning it. The very same judicial principles are
operating in his mind that operate in that of a pagan Solon, or any other
transgressor outside of the revelation of mercy. That which holds back
the convicted sinner from casting himself upon the Divine pity is the
perception that God must be just. This fact is certain, whether anything
else is certain or not. And it is not until he perceives that God can be
_both_ just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus; it is not
until he sees that, through the substituted sufferings of Christ, God can
_punish_ sin while at the same time He _pardons_ it,--can punish it in
the Substitute while He pardons it in the sinner,--it is not until he is
enabled to apprehend the doctrine of _vicarious_ atonement, that his
doubts and fears respecting the possibility and reality of the Divine
mercy are removed. The instant he discovers that the exercise of pardon
is rendered entirely consistent with the justice of God, by the
substituted death of the Son of God, he sees the Divine mercy, and that
too in the high form of _self-sacrifice,_ and trusts in it, and is at

These considerations are sufficient to show, that according to the
natural and spontaneous operations of the human intellect, justice
stands in the way of the exercise of mercy, and that therefore, if
man is not informed by Divine Revelation respecting this latter
attribute, he can never acquire the certainty that God will forgive his
sin. There are two very important and significant inferences from this
truth, to which we now ask serious attention.

1. In the first place, those who deny the credibility, and Divine
authority, of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments _shut up the
whole world to doubt and despair_. For, unless God has spoken the word of
mercy in this written Revelation, He has not spoken it anywhere; and we
have seen, that unless He has spoken such a merciful word _somewhere_, no
human transgressor can be certain of anything but stark unmitigated
justice and retribution. Do you tell us that God is too good to punish
men, and that therefore it must be that He is merciful? We tell you, in
reply, that God is good when He punishes sin, and your own conscience,
like that of Plutarch, re-echoes the reply. Sin is a wicked thing, and
when the Holy One visits it with retribution, He is manifesting the
purest moral excellence and the most immaculate perfection of character
that we can conceive of. But if by goodness you mean mercy, then we say
that this is the very point in dispute, and you must not beg the point
but must prove it. And now, if you deny the authority and credibility of
the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, we ask you upon what ground
you venture to affirm that God will pardon man's sin. You cannot
demonstrate it upon any _a priori_ and necessary principles. You cannot
show that the Deity is obligated to remit the penalty due to
transgression. You can prove the necessity of the exercise of justice,
but you cannot prove the necessity of the exercise of mercy. It is purely
optional with God, whether to pardon or not. If, therefore, you cannot
establish the fact of the Divine clemency by _a priori_ reasoning,--if
you cannot make out a _necessity_ for the exercise of mercy,--you must
betake yourself to the only other method of proof that remains to you,
the method of testimony. If you have the _declaration_ and _promise_ of
God, that He will forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin, you may be
certain of the fact,--as certain as you would be, could you prove the
absolute necessity of the exercise of mercy. For God's promise cannot be
broken. God's testimony is sure. But, by the supposition, you deny that
this declaration has been made, and this promise has been uttered, in the
written Revelation of the Christian Church. Where then do you send me for
the information, and the testimony? Have you a private revelation of your
own? Has the Deity spoken to you in particular, and told you that He will
forgive your sin, and my sin, and that of all the generations? Unless
this declaration has been made either to you or to some other one, we
have seen that you cannot establish the _certainty_ that God will forgive
sin. It is a purely optional matter with Him, and whether He will or no
depends entirely upon His decision, determination, and declaration. If
He says that He will pardon sin, it will certainly be done. But until He
says it, you and every other man must be remanded to the inexorable
decisions of conscience which thunder out: "The soul that sinneth it
shall die." Whoever, therefore, denies that God in the Scriptures of the
Old and New Testaments has broken through the veil that hides eternity
from time, and has testified to the human race that He will forgive sin,
and has solemnly promised to do so, takes away from the human race the
only ground of certainty which they possess, that there is pity in the
heavens, and that it will be shown to sinful creatures like themselves.
But this is to shut them up again, to the doubt and hopelessness of the
pagan world,--a world without Revelation.

2. In the second place, it follows from this subject, that mankind must
_take the declaration and promise of God, respecting the exercise of
mercy, precisely as He has given it_. They must follow the record
_implicitly_, without any criticisms or alterations. Not only does the
exercise of mercy depend entirely upon the will and pleasure of God, but,
the mode, the conditions, and the length of time during which the offer
shall be made, are all dependent upon the same sovereignty. Let us look
at these particulars one by one.

In the first place, the _method_ by which the Divine clemency shall be
manifested, and the _conditions_ upon which the offer of forgiveness
shall be made, are matters that rest solely with God. If it is entirely
optional with Him whether to pardon at all, much more does it depend
entirely upon Him to determine the way and means. It is here that we stop
the mouth of him who objects to the doctrine of forgiveness through a
vicarious atonement. We will by no means concede, that the exhibition
of mercy through the vicarious satisfaction of justice is an optional
matter, and that God might have dispensed with such satisfaction, had
He so willed. We believe that the forgiveness of sin is possible even to
the Deity, only through a substituted sacrifice that completely satisfies
the demands of law and justice,--that without the shedding of expiating
blood there is no remission of sin possible or conceivable, under a
government of law. But, without asking the objector to come up to this
high ground, we are willing, for the sake of the argument, to go down
upon his low one; and we say, that even if the metaphysical necessity of
an atonement could not be maintained, and that it is purely optional with
God whether to employ this method or not, it would still be the duty and
wisdom of man to take the record just as it reads, and to accept the
method that has actually been adopted. If the Sovereign has a perfect
right to say whether He will or will not pardon the criminal, has He not
the same right to say _how_ He will do it? If the transgressor, upon
principles of justice, could be sentenced to endless misery, and yet the
Sovereign Judge concludes to offer him forgiveness and eternal life,
shall the criminal, the culprit who could not stand an instant in the
judgment, presume to quarrel with the method, and dictate the terms by
which his own pardon shall be secured? Even supposing, then, that there
were no _intrinsic_ necessity for the offering of an infinite sacrifice
to satisfy infinite justice, the Great God might still take the lofty
ground of sovereignty, and say to the criminal: "My will shall stand for
my reason; I decide to offer you amnesty and eternal joy, in this mode,
and upon these terms. The reasons for my method are known to myself. Take
mercy in this method, or take justice. Receive the forgiveness of sin in
this mode, or else receive the eternal and just punishment of sin. Can I
not do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good?"
God is under no necessity to offer the forgiveness of sin to any criminal
upon any terms; still less is He hedged up to a method of forgiveness
prescribed by the criminal himself.

Again, the same reasoning will apply to the _time during which the offer
of mercy shall be extended_. If it is purely optional with God, whether
He will pardon my sin at all, it is also purely optional with Him to fix
the limits within which He will exercise the act of pardon. Should He
tell me, that if I would confess and forsake my sins to-day, He would
blot them out forever, but that the gracious offer should be withdrawn
tomorrow, what conceivable ground of complaint could I discover? He is
under no necessity of extending the pardon at this moment, and neither
is He at the next, or any future one. Mercy is grace, and not debt. Now
it has pleased God, to limit the period during which the work of
Redemption shall go on. There is a point of time, for every sinful man,
at which "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin" (Heb. x. 26). The
period of Redemption is confined to earth and time; and unless the sinner
exercises repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,
before his spirit returns to God who gave it, there is no redemption for
him through eternal ages. This fact we know by the declaration and
testimony of God; in the same manner that we know that God will exercise
mercy at all, and upon any conditions whatever. We have seen that we
cannot establish the fact that the Deity will forgive sin, by any _a
priori_ reasoning, but know it only because He has spoken a word to this
effect, and given the world His promise to be gracious and merciful,
In like manner, we do not establish the fact that there will be no second
offer of forgiveness, in the future world, by any process of reasoning
from the nature of the case, or the necessity of things. We are willing
to concede to the objector, that for aught that we can see the Holy
Ghost is as able to take of the things of Christ, and show them to a
guilty soul, in the next world, as He is in this. So far as almighty
power is concerned, the Divine Spirit could convince men of sin, and
righteousness, and judgment, and incline them to repentance and faith, in
eternity as well as in time. And it is equally true, that the Divine
Spirit could have prevented the origin of sin itself, and the fall of
Adam, with the untold woes that proceed therefrom. But it is not a
question of power. It is a question of _intention_, of _determination_,
and of _testimony_ upon the part of God. And He has distinctly declared
in the written Revelation, that it is His intention to limit the
converting and saving influences of His Spirit to time and earth. He
tells the whole world unequivocally, that His spirit shall not always
strive with man, and that the day of judgment which occurs at the end of
this Dispensation of grace, is not a day of pardon but of doom. Christ's
description of the scenes that will close up this Redemptive
Economy,--the throne, the opened books, the sheep on the right hand and
the goats on the left hand, the words of the Judge: "Come ye blessed,
depart ye cursed,"--proves beyond controversy that "_now_ is the accepted
time, and _now_ is the day of salvation." The utterance of our Redeeming
God, by His servant David, is: "_To-day_ if ye will hear His voice harden
not your hearts." St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, informs the
world, that as God sware that those Israelites who did not believe and
obey His servant Moses, during their wanderings in the desert, should not
enter the earthly Canaan, so those, in any age and generation of men, who
do not believe and obey His Son Jesus Christ, during their earthly
pilgrimage, shall, by the same Divine oath, be shut out of the eternal
rest that remaineth for the people of God (Hebrews iii. 7-19).
Unbelieving men, in eternity, will be deprived of the benefits of
Christ's redemption, by the _oath_, the solemn _decision_, the judicial
_determination_ of God. For, this exercise of mercy, of which we are
speaking, is not a matter of course, and of necessity, and which
therefore continues forever and forever. It is optional. God is entirely
at liberty to pardon, or not to pardon. And He is entirely at liberty to
say when, and how, and _how long_ the offer of pardon shall be extended.
He had the power to carry the whole body of the people of Israel over
Jordan, into the promised land, but He sware that those who proved
refractory, and disobedient, during a _certain definite period of time_,
should never enter Canaan. And, by His apostle, He informs all the
generations of men, that the same principle will govern Him in respect to
the entrance into the heavenly Canaan. The limiting of the offer of
salvation to this life is not founded upon any necessity in the Divine
Nature, but, like the offer of salvation itself, depends upon the
sovereign pleasure and determination of God. That pleasure, and that
determination, have been distinctly made known in the Scriptures. We know
as clearly as we know anything revealed in the Bible, that God has
decided to pardon here in time, and not to pardon in eternity. He has
drawn a line between the present period, during which He makes salvation
possible to man, and the future period, when He will not make it
possible. And He had a right to draw that line, because mercy from first
to last is the optional, and not the obligated agency of the Supreme

Therefore, _fear_ lest, a promise being left us of entering into His
rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto you is the
gospel preached, as well as unto those Israelites; but the word, did not
profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. Neither
will it profit you, unless it is mixed with faith. God limiteth a certain
day, saying in David, "_To-day_, after so long a time,"--after these many
years of hearing and neglecting the offer of forgiveness,--"_to-day_, if
ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts." Labor, therefore, _now_,
to enter into that rest, lest any man fall, after the same example of
unbelief, with those Israelites whom the oath of God shut out of both the
earthly and the heavenly Canaan.

[Footnote 1: Compare, also, the very full announcement of mercy as a
Divine attribute that was to be exercised, in Exodus xxxiv. 6, 7.

This is the more noteworthy, as it occurs in connection with the giving
of the law.]

[Footnote 2: Their creed lives in the satire of YOUNG (Universal Passion.
Satire VI.),--as full of sense, truth, and pungency now, as it was one
hundred years ago.

"From atheists far, they steadfastly believe
God is, and is Almighty--to _forgive_.
His other excellence they'll not dispute;
But mercy, sure, is His chief attribute.
Shall pleasures of a short duration chain
A lady's soul in everlasting pain?
Will the great Author us poor worms destroy,
For now and then a sip of transient joy?
No, He's forever in a smiling mood;
He's like themselves; or how could He be good?
And they blaspheme, who blacker schemes suppose.
Devoutly, thus, Jehovah they depose,
The Pure! the Just! and set up in His stead,
A deity that's perfectly well-bred."]

[Footnote 3: Plutarch supposes a form of punishment in the future world
that is disciplinary. If it accomplishes its purpose, the soul goes into
Elysium,--a doctrine like that of purgatory in the Papal scheme. But in
case the person proves incorrigible, his suffering is _endless_. He
represents an individual as having been restored to life, and giving an
account of what he had seen. Among other things, he "informed his friend,
how that Adrastia, the daughter of Jupiter and Necessity, was seated in
the highest place of all, to punish all manner of crimes and enormities,
and that in the whole number of the wicked and ungodly there never was
any one, whether great or little, high or low, rich or poor, that could
ever by force or cunning escape the severe lashes of her rigor. But
as there are three sorts of punishment, so there are three several
Furies, or female ministers of justice, and to every one of these
belongs a peculiar office and degree of punishment. The first of
these was called [Greek: Poinae] or _Pain_; whose executions are swift
and speedy upon those that are presently to receive bodily punishment
in this life, and which she manages after a more gentle manner, omitting
the correction of slight offences, which need but little expiation. But
if the cure of impiety require a greater labor, the Deity delivers those,
after death, to [Greek: Dikae] or _Vengeance_. But when Vengeance has
given them over as altogether _incurable_, then the third and most severe
of all Adrastia's ministers, [Greek: 'Erinys] or _Fury_, takes them in
hand, and after she has chased and coursed them from one place to
another, flying yet not knowing where to fly for shelter and relief,
plagued and tormented with a thousand miseries, she plunges them headlong
into an invisible abyss, the hideousness of which no tongue can express."
PLUTARCH: Morals, Vol. IV. p. 210. Ed. 1694. PLATO (Gorgias 525. c.d. Ed.
Bip. IV. 169) represents Socrates as teaching that those who "have
committed the most extreme wickedness, and have become incurable through
such crimes, are made an example to others, and suffer _forever_ ([Greek:
paschontas ton aei chronon]) the greatest, most agonizing, and most
dreadful punishment." And Socrates adds that "Homer (Odyssey xi. 575)
also bears witness to this; for he represents kings and potentates,
Tantalus, Sysiphus, and Tityus, as being tormented _forever_ in Hades"
([Greek: en adon ton aei chronon timoronmenos]).-In the Aztec or Mexican
theology, "the wicked, comprehending the greater part of mankind, were to
expiate their sin in a place of everlasting darkness." PRESCOTT: Conquest
of Mexico, Vol. I. p. 62.]

[Footnote 4: It may be objected, at this point, that mercy also is a
necessary attribute in God, like justice itself,--that it necessarily
belongs to the nature of a perfect Being, and therefore might be inferred
_a priori_ by the pagan, like other attributes. This is true; but the
objection overlooks the distinction between the _existence_ of an
attribute and its _exercise_. Omnipotence necessarily belongs to the idea
of the Supreme Being, but it does not follow that it must necessarily be
_exerted_ in act. Because God is able to create the universe of matter
and mind, it does not follow that he _must_ create it. The doctrine of
the necessity of creation, though held in a few instances by theists who
seem not to have discerned its logical consequences, is virtually
pantheistic. Had God been pleased to dwell forever in the
self-sufficiency of His Trinity, and never called the Finite into
existence from nothing, He might have done so, and He would still have
been omnipotent and "blessed forever." In like manner, the attribute of
mercy might exist in God, and yet not be exerted. Had He been pleased to
treat the human race as He did the fallen angels, He was perfectly at
liberty to do so, and the number and quality of his immanent attributes
would have been the same that they are now. But justice is an attribute
which not only exists of necessity, but must be _exercised_ of necessity;
because not to exercise it would be injustice.-For a fuller exposition of
the nature of justice, see SHEDD: Discourses and Essays, pp. 291-300.]


MARK x. 15.--"Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the
kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."

These words of our Lord are very positive and emphatic, and will,
therefore, receive a serious attention from every one who is anxious
concerning his future destiny beyond the grave. For, they mention an
indispensable requisite in order to an entrance into eternal life.
"Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he
_shall not_ enter therein."

The occasion of their utterance is interesting, and brings to view a
beautiful feature in the perfect character of Jesus Christ. The Redeemer
was deeply interested in every age and condition of man. All classes
shared in His benevolent affection, and all may equally partake of the
rich blessings that flow from it. But childhood and youth seem to have
had a special attraction for Him. The Evangelist is careful to inform us,
that He took little children in His arms, and that beholding an amiable
young man He loved him,--a gush of feeling went out towards him. It was
because Christ was a perfect man, as well as the infinite God, that such
a feeling dwelt in His breast. For, there has never been an uncommonly
fair and excellent human character, in which tenderness and affinity for
childhood has not been a quality, and a quality, too, that was no small
part of the fairness and excellence. The best definition that has yet
been given of genius itself is, that it is the carrying of the feelings
of childhood onward into the thoughts and aspirations of manhood. He who
is not attracted by the ingenuousness, and trustfulness, and simplicity,
of the first period of human life, is certainly wanting in the finest and
most delicate elements of nature, and character. Those who have been
coarse and brutish, those who have been selfish and ambitious, those who
have been the pests and scourges of the world, have had no sympathy with
youth. Though once young themselves, they have been those in whom the
gentle and generous emotions of the morning of life have died out. That
man may become hardhearted, skeptical and sensual, a hater of his kind,
a hater of all that is holy and good, he must divest himself entirely of
the fresh and ingenuous feeling of early boyhood, and receive in its
place that malign and soured feeling which is the growth, and sign, of a
selfish and disingenuous life. It is related of Voltaire,--a man in whom
evil dwelt in its purest and most defecated essence,--that he had no
sympathy with the child, and that the children uniformly shrank from that
sinister eye in which the eagle and the reptile were so strangely

Our Saviour, as a perfect man, then, possessed this trait, and it often
showed itself in His intercourse with men. As an omniscient Being, He
indeed looked with profound interest, upon the dawning life of the human
spirit as it manifests itself in childhood. For He knew as no finite
being can, the marvellous powers that sleep in the soul of the young
child; the great affections which are to be the foundation of eternal
bliss, or eternal pain, that exist in embryo within; the mysterious
ideas that lie in germ far down in its lowest depths,--He knew, as no
finite creature is able, what is in the child, as well as in the man, and
therefore was interested in its being and its well-being. But besides
this, by virtue of His perfect humanity, He was attracted by those
peculiar traits which are seen in the earlier years of human life. He
loved the artlessness and gentleness, the sense of dependence, the
implicit trust, the absence of ostentation and ambition, the unconscious
modesty, in one word, the _child-likeness_ of the child.

Knowing this characteristic of the Redeemer, certain parents brought
their young children to Him, as the Evangelist informs us, "that He
should touch them;" either believing that there was a healthful virtue,
connected with the touch of Him who healed the sick and gave life to the
dead, that would be of benefit to them; or, it may be, with more elevated
conceptions of Christ's person, and more spiritual desires respecting the
welfare of their offspring, believing that the blessing (which was
symbolized by the touch and laying on of hands) of so exalted a Being
would be of greater worth than mere health of body. The disciples,
thinking that mere children were not worthy of the regards of their
Master, rebuked the anxious and affectionate parents. "But,"--continues
the narrative,--"when Jesus saw it he was much displeased, and said unto
them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not,
for of such is the kingdom of God;" and then immediately explained what
He meant by this last assertion, which is so often misunderstood and
misapplied, by adding, in the words of the text, "Verily I say unto you,
whosoever shall not _receive the kingdom of God as a little child"_ that
is with a child-like spirit, "he shall not enter therein." For our Lord
does not here lay down a doctrinal position, and affirm the moral
innocence of childhood. He does not mark off and discriminate the
children as sinless, from their parents as sinful, as if the two classes
did not belong to the same race of beings, and were not involved in the
same apostasy and condemnation. He merely sets childhood and manhood
over-against each other as two distinct stages of human life, each
possessing peculiar traits and tempers, and affirms that it is the meek
spirit of childhood, and not the proud spirit of manhood, that welcomes
and appropriates the Christian salvation. He is only contrasting the
general attitude of a child, with the general attitude of a man. He
merely affirms that the _trustful_ and _believing_ temper of childhood,
as compared with the _self-reliant_ and _skeptical_ temper of manhood, is
the temper by which both the child and the man are to receive the
blessings of the gospel which both of them equally need.

The kingdom of God is represented in the New Testament, sometimes as
subjective, and sometimes as objective; sometimes as within the soul of
man, and sometimes as up in the skies. Our text combines both
representations; for, it speaks of a man's "receiving" the kingdom of
God, and of a man's "entering" the kingdom of God; of the coming of
heaven into a soul, and of the going of a soul into heaven. In other
passages, one or the other representation appears alone. "The kingdom of
God,"--says our Lord to the Pharisees,--"cometh not with observation.
Neither shall they say, Lo here, or lo there: for behold the kingdom of
God is within you." The apostle Paul, upon arriving at Rome, invited the
resident Jews to discuss the subject of Christianity with him. "And when
they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging, to
whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God,"--to whom he
explained the nature of the Christian religion,--"persuading them
concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets,
from, morning till evening." The same apostle teaches the Romans, that
"the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace,
and joy in the Holy Ghost;" and tells the Corinthians, that "the kingdom
of God is not in word, but in power." In all these instances, the
subjective signification prevails, and the kingdom of God is simply a
system of truth, or a state of the heart. And all are familiar with the
sentiment, that heaven is a state, as well as a place. All understand
that one half of heaven is in the human heart itself; and, that if this
half be wanting, the other half is useless,--as the half of a thing
generally is. Isaac Walton remarks of the devout Sibbs:

"Of this blest man, let this just praise be given, Heaven was in him,
before he was in heaven."

It is only because that in the eternal world the imperfect righteousness
of the renewed man is perfected, and the peace of the anxious soul
becomes total, and the joy that is so rare and faint in the Christian
experience here upon earth becomes the very element of life and
action,--it is only because eternity _completes_ the excellence of the
Christian (but does not begin it), that heaven, as a place of perfect
holiness and happiness, is said to be in the future life, and we are
commanded to seek a better country even a heavenly. But, because this is
so, let no one lose sight of the other side of the great truth, and
forget that man must "receive" the kingdom as well as "enter" it. Without
the right state of heart, without the mental correspondent to heaven,
that beautiful and happy region on high will, like any and every other
place, be a hell, instead of a paradise.[1] A distinguished writer
represents one of his characters as leaving the Old World, and seeking
happiness in the New, supposing that change of place and outward
circumstances could cure a restless mind. He found no rest by the change;
and in view of his disappointment says: "I will return, and in my
ancestral home, amid my paternal fields, among my own people, I will say,
_Here, or nowhere_, is America."[2] In like manner, must the Christian
seek happiness in present peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, and must here
in this life strive after the righteousness that brings tranquillity.
Though he may look forward with aspiration to the new heavens and the new
earth wherein dwelleth a _perfected_ righteousness, yet he must remember
that his holiness and happiness there is merely an expansion of his
holiness and happiness here. He must seek to "receive" the kingdom of
God, as well as to "enter" it; and when tempted to relax his efforts, and
to let down his watch, because the future life will not oppose so many
obstacles to spirituality as this, and will bring a more perfect
enjoyment with it, he should say to himself: "Be holy now, be happy here.
_Here, or nowhere_, is heaven."

Such being the nature of the kingdom of God, we are now brought up to the
discussion of the subject of the text, and are prepared to consider: _In
what respects, the kingdom of God requires the temper of a child as
distinguished from the temper of a man, in order to receive it, and in
order to enter it_.

The kingdom of God, considered as a kingdom that is within the soul, is
tantamount to religion. To receive this kingdom, then, is equivalent to
receiving religion into the heart, so that the character shall be formed
by it, and the future destiny be decided by it. What, then, is the
religion that is to be received? We answer that it is the religion that
is needed. But, the religion that is needed by a sinful man is very
different from the religion that is adapted to a holy angel. He who has
never sinned is already in direct and blessed relations with God, and
needs only to drink in the overflowing and everflowing stream of purity
and pleasure. Such a spirit requires a religion of only two doctrines:
First, that there is a God; and, secondly, that He ought to be loved
supremely and obeyed perfectly. This is the entire theology of the
angels, and it is enough for them. They know nothing of sin in their
personal experience, and consequently they require in their religion,
none of those doctrines, and none of those provisions, which are adapted
to the needs of sinners.

But, man is in an altogether different condition from this. He too knows
that there is a God, and that He ought to be loved supremely, and obeyed
perfectly. Thus far, he goes along with the angel, and with every other
rational being made under the law and government of God. But, at this
point, his path diverges from that of the pure and obedient inhabitant of
heaven, and leads in an opposite direction. For he does not, like the
angels, act up to his knowledge. He is not conformed to these two
doctrines. He does not love God supremely, and he does not obey Him
perfectly. This fact puts him into a very different position, in
reference to these two doctrines, from that occupied by the obedient and
unfallen spirit. These two doctrines, in relation to him as one who has
contravened them, have become a power of condemnation; and whenever he
thinks of them he feels guilty. It is no longer sufficient to tell him.
that religion consists in loving God, and enjoying His presence,--consists
in holiness and happiness. "This is very true,"--he says,--"but
I am neither holy nor happy." It is no longer enough to remind him that
all is well with any creature who loves God with all his heart, and keeps
His commandments without a single slip or failure. "This is very
true,"--he says again,--"but I do not love in this style, neither have I
obeyed in this manner." It is too late to preach mere natural religion,
the religion of the angels, to one who has failed to stand fully and
firmly upon the principles of natural religion. It is too late to tell a
creature who has lost his virtue, that if he is only virtuous he is safe

The religion, then, that a sinner needs, cannot be limited to the two
doctrines of the holiness of God, and the creature's obligation to love
and serve Him,--cannot be pared down to the precept: Fear God and
practise virtue. It must be greatly enlarged, and augmented, by the
introduction of that other class of truths which relate to the Divine
mercy towards those who have not feared God, and the Divine method of
salvation for those who are sinful. In other words, the religion for a
transgressor is _revealed_ religion, or the religion of Atonement and

What, now, is there in _this_ species of religion that necessitates the
meek and docile temper of a child, as distinguished from the proud and
self-reliant spirit of a man, in order to its reception into the heart?

I. In the first place, _the New Testament religion offers the forgiveness
of sins, and provides for it_. No one can ponder this fact an instant,
without perceiving that the pride and self-reliance of manhood are
excluded, and that the meekness and implicit trust of childhood are
demanded. Pardon and justification before God must, from the nature of
the case, be a gift, and a gift cannot be obtained unless it is accepted
_as such_. To demand or claim mercy, is self-contradictory. For, a claim
implies a personal ground for it; and this implies self-reliance, and
this is "manhood" in distinction from "childhood." In coming, therefore,
as the religion of the Cross does, before man with a gratuity, with an
offer to pardon his sins, it supposes that he take a correspondent
attitude. Were he sinless, the religion suited to him would be the mere
utterance of law, and he might stand up before it with the serene brow of
an obedient subject of the Divine government; though even then, not with
a proud and boastful temper. It would be out of place for him, to plead
guilty when he was innocent; or to cast himself upon mercy, when he could
appeal to justice. If the creature's acceptance be of works, then it is
no more of grace, otherwise work is no more work. But if it be by grace,
then it is no more of works (Rom. xi. 6). If the very first feature of
the Christian religion is the exhibition of clemency, then the proper and
necessary attitude of one who receives it is that of humility.

But, leaving this argument drawn from the characteristics, of
Christianity as a religion of Redemption, let us pass into the soul of
man, and see what we are taught there, respecting the temper which he
must possess in order to receive this new, revealed kingdom of God. The
soul of man is guilty. Now, there is something in the very nature of
guilt that excludes the proud, self-conscious, self-reliant spirit of
manhood, and necessitates the lowly, and dependent spirit of childhood.
When conscience is full of remorse, and the holy eye of law is searching
us, and fears of eternal banishment and punishment are rakeing the
spirit, there is no remedy but simple confession, and childlike reliance
upon absolute mercy. The sinner must be a softened child and not a hard
man, he must beg a boon and not put in a claim, if he would receive this
kingdom of God, this New Testament religion, into his soul. The slightest
inclination to self-righteousness, the least degree of resistance to the
just pressure of law, is a vitiating element in repentance. The muscles
of the stout man must give way, the knees must bend, the hands must be
uplifted deprecatingly, the eyes must gaze with a straining gaze upon the
expiating Cross,--in other words, the least and last remains of a stout
and self-asserting spirit must vanish, and the whole being must be
pliant, bruised, broken, helpless in its state and condition, in order
to a pure sense of guilt, a godly sorrow for sin, and a cordial
appropriation of the atonement. The attempt to mix the two tempers, to
mingle the child with the man, to confess sin and assert
self-righteousness, must be an entire failure, and totally prevent
the reception of the religion of Redemption. In relation to the Redeemer,
the sinful soul should be a vacuum, a hollow void, destitute of
everything holy and good, conscious that it is, and aching to be filled
with the fulness of His peace and purity.

And with reference to God, the Being whose function it is to pardon, we
see the same necessity for this child-like spirit in the transgressor.
How can God administer forgiveness, unless there is a correlated temper
to receive it? His particular declarative act in blotting out sin depends
upon the existence of penitence for sin. Where there is absolute hardness
of heart, there can be no pardon, from the very nature of the case, and
the very terms of the statement. Can God say to the hardened Judas:
Son be of good cheer, thy sin is forgiven thee? Can He speak to the
traitor as He speaks to the Magdalen? The difficulty is not upon the side
of God. The Divine pity never lags behind any genuine human sorrow. No
man was ever more eager to be forgiven than his Redeemer is to forgive
him. No contrition for sin, upon the part of man, ever yet outran the
readiness and delight of God to recognize it, and meet it with a free
pardon. For, that very contrition itself is always the product of Divine
grace, and proves that God is in advance of the soul. The father in the
parable saw the son while he was a great way off, _before_ the son saw
him, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. But while this is so,
and is an encouragement to the penitent, it must ever be remembered that
unless there is some genuine sorrow in the human soul, there can be no
manifestation of the Divine forgiveness within it. Man cannot beat the
air, and God cannot forgive impenitency.

II. In the second place, the New Testament religion proposes _to create
within man a clean heart, and to renew within him a right spirit_.
Christianity not only pardons but sanctifies the human soul. And in
accomplishing this latter work, it requires the same humble and docile
temper that was demanded in the former instance.

Holiness, even in an unfallen angel, is not an absolutely self-originated
thing. If it were, the angel would be worthy of adoration and worship. He
who is inwardly and totally excellent, and can also say: I am what I am
by my own ultimate authorship, can claim for himself the _glory_ that is
due to righteousness. Any self-originated and self-subsistent virtue is
entitled to the hallelujahs. But, no created spirit, though he be the
highest of the archangels, can make such an assertion, or put in such a
claim. The merit of the unfallen angel, therefore, is a relative one;
because his holiness is of a created and derived species. It is not
increate and self-subsistent. This being so, it is plain that the proper
attitude of all creatures in respect to moral excellence is a recipient
and dependent one. But this is a meek and lowly attitude; and this is, in
one sense, a child-like attitude. Our Lord knew no sin; and yet He
himself tells us that He was meek and lowly of heart, and we well know
that He was. He does not say that He was penitent. He does not propose
himself as our exemplar in that respect. But, in respect to the primal,
normal attitude which a finite being must ever take in reference to the
infinite and adorable God, and the absolute underived Holiness; in
reference to the true temper which a holy man or a holy angel must
possess; our Lord Jesus Christ, in His human capacity, sets an example to
be followed by the spirits of just men made perfect, and by all the holy
inhabitants of heaven. In other words, He teaches the whole universe that
holiness in a creature, even though it be complete, does not permit its
possessor to be self-reliant, does not allow the proud spirit of manhood,
does not remove the obligation to be child-like, meek, and lowly of

But if this is true of holiness among those who have never fallen, how
much more true is it of those who have, and who need to be lifted up out
of the abyss. If an angel, in reference to God, must be meek and lowly of
heart; if the holy Redeemer must in His human capacity be meek and lowly
of heart; if the child-like temper, in reference to the infinite and
everlasting Father and the absolutely Good, is the proper one in such
exalted instances as these; how much more is it in the instance of the
vile and apostate children of Adam! Besides the original and primitive
reason growing out of creaturely relationships, there is the superadded
one growing out of the fact, that now the whole head is sick and the
whole heart is faint, and from the sole of the foot even unto the head
there is no soundness in human nature.

Hence, our Lord began His Sermon on the Mount in these words: "Blessed
are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are
they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek; for
they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst
after righteousness; for they shall be filled."[3] The very opening of
this discourse, which He intended should go down through the ages as a
manifesto declaring the real nature of His kingdom, and the spirit which
His followers must possess, asserts the necessity of a needy, recipient,
asking mind, upon the part of a sinner. All this phraseology implies
destitution; and a destitution that cannot be self-supplied. He who
hungers and thirsts after righteousness is conscious of an inward void,
in respect to righteousness, that must be filled from abroad. He
who is meek is sensible that he is dependent for his moral excellence. He
who is poor in spirit is, not pusillanimous as Thomas Paine charged
upon Christianity but, as John of Damascus said of himself, a man of
spiritual cravings, _vir desideriorum_.

Now, all this delineation of the general attitude requisite in order to
the reception of the Christian religion is summed up again, in the
declaration of our text: "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God
_as a little child_, he shall not enter therein." Is a man, then,
sensible that his understanding is darkened by sin, and that he is
destitute of clear and just apprehensions of divine things? Does his
consciousness of inward poverty assume this form? If he would be
delivered from his mental blindness, and be made rich in spiritual
knowledge, he must adopt a teachable and recipient attitude. He must not
assume that his own mind is the great fountain of wisdom, and seek to
clear up his doubts and darkness by the rationalistic method of
self-illumination. On the contrary, he must go beyond his mind and open a
_book_, even the Book of Revelation, and search for the wisdom it
contains and proffers. And yet more than this. As this volume is the
product of the Eternal Spirit himself, and this Spirit conspires with the
doctrines which He has revealed, and exerts a positive illuminating
influence, he must seek communion therewith. From first to last,
therefore, the darkened human spirit must take a waiting posture, in
order to enlightenment. That part of "the clean heart and the right
spirit" which consists in the _knowledge_ of divine things can be
obtained only through a child-like bearing and temper. This is what our
Lord means, when He pronounces a blessing upon the poor in spirit, the
hungry and the thirsting soul. Men, in their pride and self-reliance, in
their sense of manhood, may seek to enter the kingdom of heaven by a
different method; they may attempt to _speculate_ their way through all
the mystery that overhangs human life, and the doubts that confuse and
baffle the human understanding; but when they find that the unaided
intellect only "spots a thicker gloom" instead of pouring a serener ray,
wearied and worn they return, as it were, to the sweet days of childhood,
and in the gentleness, and tenderness, and docility of an altered mood,
learn, as Bacon did in respect to the kingdom of nature, that the kingdom
of heaven is open only to the little child.

Again, is a man conscious of the corruption of his heart? Has he
discovered his alienation from the life and love of God, and is he now
aware that a total change must pass upon him, or that alienation must be
everlasting? Has he found out that his inclinations, and feelings, and
tastes, and sympathies are so worldly, so averse from spiritual objects,
as to be beyond his sovereignty? Does he feel vividly that the attempt to
expel this carnal mind, and to induce in the place thereof the heavenly
spontaneous glow of piety towards God and man, is precisely like the
attempt of the Ethiopian to change his skin, and the leopard his spots?

If this experience has been forced upon him, shall he meet it with the
port and bearing of a strong man? Shall he take the attitude of the old
Roman stoic, and attempt to meet the exigencies of his moral condition,
by the steady strain and hard tug of his own force? He cannot long do
this, under the clear searching ethics of the Sermon on the Mount,
without an inexpressible weariness and a profound despair. Were he within
the sphere of paganism, it might, perhaps, be otherwise. A Marcus
Aurelius could maintain this legal and self-righteous position to the end
of life, because his ideal of virtue was a very low one. Had that
high-minded pagan felt the influences of Christian ethics, had the Sermon
on the Mount searched his soul, telling him that the least emotion of
pride, anger, or lust, was a breach of that everlasting law which stood
grand and venerable before his philosophic eye, and that his virtue was
all gone, and his soul was exposed to the inflictions of justice, if even
a single thought of his heart was unconformed to the perfect rule of
right,--if, instead of the mere twilight of natural religion, there had
flared into his mind the fierce and consuming splendor of the noonday sun
of revealed truth, and New Testament ethics, it would have been
impossible for that serious-minded emperor to say, as in his utter
self-delusion he did, to the Deity: "Give me my dues,"--instead of
breathing the prayer: "Forgive me my debts." Christianity elevates the
standard and raises the ideal of moral excellence, and thereby disturbs
the self-complacent feeling of the stoic, and the moralist. If the law and
rule of right is merely an outward one, it is possible for a man
sincerely to suppose that he has kept the law, and his sincerity will be
his ruin. For, in this case, he can maintain a self-reliant and a
self-satisfied spirit, the spirit of manhood, to the very end of his
earthly career, and go with his righteousness which is as filthy rags,
into the presence of Him in whose sight the heavens are not clean. But,
if the law and rule of right is seen to be an inward and spiritual
statute, piercing to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and
becoming a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, it is not
possible for a candid man to delude himself into the belief that he
has perfectly obeyed it; and in this instance, that self-dissatisfied
spirit, that consciousness of internal schism and bondage, that war
between the flesh and the spirit so vividly portrayed in the seventh
chapter of Romans, begins, and instead of the utterance of the moralist:
"I have kept the everlasting law, give me my dues," there bursts forth
the self-despairing cry of the penitent and the child: "O wretched man
that I am.! who shall deliver me? Father I have sinned against heaven and
before thee."

When, therefore, the truth and Spirit of God, working in and with the
natural conscience, have brought a man to that point where he sees that
all his own righteousness is as filthy rags, and that the pure and
stainless righteousness of Jehovah must become the possession and the
characteristic of his soul, he is prepared to believe the declaration of
our text: "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little
child, he shall not enter therein." The new heart, and the right
spirit,--the change, not in the mere external behavior but, in the very
disposition and inclination of the soul,--excludes every jot and tittle
of self-assertion, every particle of proud and stoical manhood.

Such a text as this which we have been considering is well adapted to put
us upon the true method of attaining everlasting life. These few and
simple words actually dropped, eighteen hundred years ago, from the lips
of that august Being who is now seated upon the throne of heaven, and who
knows this very instant the effect which they are producing in the heart
of every one who either reads or hears them. Let us remember that these
few and simple words do verily contain the key to everlasting life and
glory. In knowing what they mean, we know, infallibly, the way to heaven.
"I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those
things which we see, and have not seen them: and to hear those things
which we hear, and have not heard them." How many a thoughtful pagan, in
the centuries that have passed and gone, would in all probability have
turned a most attentive ear, had he heard, as we do, from the lips of an
unerring Teacher, that a child-like reception of a certain particular
truth,--and that not recondite and metaphysical, but simple as childhood
itself, and to be received by a little child's act,--would infallibly
conduct to the elysium that haunted and tantalized him.

That which hinders us is our pride, our "manhood." The act of faith is a
child's act; and a child's act, though intrinsically the easiest of any,
is relatively the most difficult of all. It implies the surrender of our
self-will, our self-love, our proud manhood; and never was a truer remark
made than that of Ullmann, that "in no one thing is the strength of a
man's will so manifested, as in his having no will of his own."[4]
"Christianity,"--says Jeremy Taylor,--"is the easiest and the hardest
thing in the world. It is like a secret in arithmetic; infinitely hard
till it be found out by a right operation, and then it is so plain we
wonder we did not understand it earlier." How hard, how impossible
without that Divine grace which makes all such central and revolutionary
acts easy and genial to the soul,--how hard it is to cease from our own
works, and really become docile and recipient children, believing on the
Lord Jesus Christ, and trusting in Him, simply and solely, for salvation.

[Footnote 1: "Concerning the object of felicity in heaven, we are agreed
that it can be no other than the blessed God himself, the
all-comprehending good, fully adequate to the highest and most enlarged
reasonable desires. But the contemperation of our faculties to the holy,
blissful object, is so necessary to our satisfying fruition, that without
this we are no more capable thereof, than a brute of the festivities of a
quaint oration, or a stone of the relishes of the most pleasant meats and
drinks." HOWE: Heaven a State of Perfection.]

[Footnote 2: GOETHE: Wilhelm Meister, Book VII., ch. iii.]

[Footnote 3: Compare Isaiah lxi. 1.]

[Footnote 4: ULLMANN: Sinlessness of Jesus, Pt. I., Ch. iii., Sec. 2.]


JOHN vi. 28, 29.--"Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we
might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is
the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."

In asking their question, the Jews intended to inquire of Christ what
_particular_ things they must do, before all others, in order to please
God. The "works of God," as they denominate them, were not any and every
duty, but those more special and important acts, by which the creature
might secure the Divine approval and favor. Our Lord understood their
question in this sense, and in His reply tells them, that the great and
only work for them to do was to exercise faith in Him. They had employed
the plural number in their question; but in His answer He employs the
singular. They had asked, What shall we do that we might work the
_works_ of God,--as if there were several of them. His reply is, "This is
the _work_ of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." He narrows
down the terms of salvation to a single one; and makes the destiny of the
soul to depend upon the performance of a particular individual act. In
this, as in many other incidental ways, our Lord teaches His own
divinity. If He were a mere creature; if He were only an inspired teacher
like David or Paul; how would He dare, when asked to give in a single
word the condition and means of human salvation, to say that they consist
in resting the soul upon Him? Would David have dared to say: "This is the
work of God,--this is the saving act,--that ye believe in me?" Would Paul
have presumed to say to the anxious inquirer: "Your soul is safe, if you
trust in me?" But Christ makes this declaration, without any
qualification. Yet He was meek and lowly of heart, and never assumed
an honor or a prerogative that did not belong to Him. It is only upon the
supposition that He was "very God of very God," the Divine Redeemer of
the children of men, that we can justify such an answer to such a

The belief is spontaneous and natural to man, that something must be
_done_ in order to salvation. No man expects to reach heaven by inaction.
Even the indifferent and supine soul expects to rouse itself up at some
future time, and work out its salvation. The most thoughtless and
inactive man, in religious respects, will acknowledge that
thoughtlessness and inactivity if continued will end in perdition.
But he intends at a future day to think, and act, and be saved. So
natural is it, to every man, to believe in salvation by works; so ready
is every one to concede that heaven is reached, and hell is escaped, only
by an earnest effort of some kind; so natural is it to every man to ask
with these Jews, "What shall we _do_, that we may work the works of God?"

But mankind generally, like the Jews in the days of our Lord, are under a
delusion respecting the _nature_ of the work which must be performed in
order to salvation. And in order to understand this delusion, we must
first examine the common notion upon the subject.

When a man begins to think of God, and of his own relations to Him, he
finds that he owes Him service and obedience. He has a work to perform,
as a subject of the Divine government; and this work is to obey the
Divine law. He finds himself obligated to love God with all his heart,
and his neighbor as himself, and to discharge all the duties that spring
out of his relations to God and man. He perceives that this is the "work"
given him to do by creation, and that if he does it he will attain the
true end of his existence, and be happy in time and eternity. When
therefore he begins to think of a religious life, his first spontaneous
impulse is to begin the performance of this work which he has hitherto
neglected, and to reinstate himself in the Divine favor by the ordinary
method of keeping the law of God. He perceives that this is the mode in
which the angels preserve themselves holy and happy; that this is the
original mode appointed by God, when He established the covenant of
works; and he does not see why it is not the method for him. The law
expressly affirms that the man that doeth these things shall live by
them; he proposes to take the law just as it reads, and just as it
stands,--to do the deeds of the law, to perform the works which it
enjoins, and to live by the service. This we say, is the common notion,
natural to man, of the species of work which must be performed in order
to eternal life. This was the idea which filled the mind of the Jews when
they put the question of the text, and received for answer from Christ,
"This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." Our
Lord does not draw out the whole truth, in detail. He gives only the
positive part of the answer, leaving His hearers to infer the negative
part of it. For the whole doctrine of Christ, fully stated, would run
thus: "No work _of the kind of which you are thinking_ can save you;
no obedience of the law, ceremonial or moral, can reinstate you in right
relations to God. I do not summon you to the performance of any such
service as that which you have in mind, in order to your justification
and acceptance before the Divine tribunal. _This_ is the work of
God,--this is the sole and single act which you are to perform,--namely,
that you _believe_ on Him whom He hath sent as a propitiation for sin. I
do not summon you to works of the law, but to faith in Me the Redeemer.
Your first duty is not to attempt to acquire a righteousness in the old
method, by doing something of yourselves, but to receive a righteousness
in the new method, by trusting in what another has done for you."

I. What is the _ground_ and _reason_ of such an answer as this? Why is
man invited to the method of faith in another, instead of the method of
faith in himself? Why is not his first spontaneous thought the true one?
Why should he not obtain eternal life by resolutely proceeding to do his
duty, and keeping the law of God? Why can he not be saved by the law of
works? Why is he so summarily shut up to the law of faith?

We answer: Because it is _too late_ for him to adopt the method of
salvation by works. The law is indeed explicit in its assertion, that the
man that doeth these things shall live by them; but then it supposes that
the man begin at the beginning. A subject of government cannot disobey a
civil statute for five or ten years, and then put himself in right
relations to it again, by obeying it for the remainder of his life. Can a
man who has been a thief or an adulterer for twenty years, and then
practises honesty and purity for the following thirty years, stand up
before the seventh and eighth commandments and be acquitted by them? It
is too late for any being who has violated a law even in a single
instance, to attempt to be justified by that law. For, the law demands
and supposes that obedience begin at the very _beginning_ of existence,
and continue down _uninterruptedly_ to the end of it. No man can come in
at the middle of a process of obedience, any more than he can come in at
the last end of it, if he proposes to be accepted upon the ground of
_obedience_. "I testify," says St. Paul, "to every man that is
circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the _whole_ law" (Gal. v. 3). The
whole, or none, is the just and inexorable rule which law lays down in
the matter of justification. If any subject of the Divine government can
show a clean record, from the beginning to the end of his existence, the
statute says to him, "Well done," and gives him the reward which he has
earned. And it gives it to him not as a matter of grace, but of debt. The
law never makes a present of wages. It never pays out wages, until they
are earned,---fairly and fully earned. But when a perfect obedience from
first to last is rendered to its claims, the compensation follows as
matter of debt. The law, in this instance, is itself brought under
obligation. It owes a reward to the perfectly obedient subject of law,
and it considers itself his debtor until it is paid. "Now to him that
worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. If it be of
works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work" (Rom.
iv. 4; xi. 6).

But, on the other hand, law is equally exact and inflexible, in case the
work has not been performed. It will not give eternal life to a soul that
has sinned ten years, and then perfectly obeyed ten years,--supposing
that there is any such soul. The obedience, as we have remarked, must run
parallel with the _entire_ existence, in order to be a ground, of
justification. Infancy, childhood, youth, manhood, old age, and then the
whole immortality that succeeds, must all be unintermittently sinless and
holy, in order to make eternal life a matter of debt. Justice is as exact
and punctilious upon this side, as it is upon the other. We have seen,
that when a perfect obedience has been rendered, justice will not palm
off the wages that are due as if they were some gracious gift; and on the
other hand, when a perfect obedience has not been rendered, it will not
be cajoled into the bestowment of wages as if they had been earned. There
is no principle that is so intelligent, so upright, and so exact, as
justice; and no creature can expect either to warp it, or to circumvent

In the light of these remarks, it is evident that it is _too late_ for a
sinner to avail himself of the method of salvation by works. For, that
method requires that sinless obedience begin at the beginning of his
existence, and never be interrupted. But no man thus begins, and no man
thus continues. "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray
as soon as they be born, speaking lies" (Ps. lviii. 3). Man comes into
the world a sinful and alienated creature. He is by nature a child of
wrath (Eph. ii. 3). Instead of beginning life with holiness, he begins it
with sin. His heart at birth is apostate and corrupt; and his conduct
from the very first is contrary to law. Such is the teaching of
Scripture, such is the statement of the Creeds, and such is the testimony
of consciousness, respecting the character which man brings into the
world with him. The very dawn of human life is clouded with depravity; is
marked by the carnal mind which is at enmity with the law of God, and is
not subject to that law, neither indeed can be. How is it possible, then,
for man to attain eternal life by a method that supposes, and requires,
that the very dawn of his being be holy like that of Christ's, and that
every thought, feeling, purpose, and act be conformed to law through the
entire existence? Is it not _too late_ for such a creature as man now is
to adopt the method of salvation by the works of the law?

But we will not crowd you, with the doctrine of native depravity and the
sin in Adam. We have no doubt that it is the scriptural and true doctrine
concerning human nature; and have no fears that it will be contradicted
by either a profound self-knowledge, or a profound metaphysics. But
perhaps you are one who doubts it; and therefore, for the sake of
argument, we will let you set the commencement of sin where you please.
If you tell us that it begins in the second, or the fourth, or the tenth
year of life, it still remains true that it is _too late_ to employ the
method of justification by works. If you concede any sin at all, at any
point whatsoever, in the history of a human soul, you preclude it from
salvation by the deeds of the law, and shut it up to salvation by grace.
Go back as far as you can in your memory, and you must acknowledge that
you find sin as far as you go; and even if, in the face of Scripture and
the symbols of the Church, you should deny that the sin runs back to
birth and apostasy in Adam, it still remains true that the first years of
your _conscious_ existence were not years of holiness, nor the first acts
which you _remember_, acts of obedience. Even upon your own theory, you
_begin_ with sin, and therefore you cannot be justified by the law.

This, then, is a conclusive reason and ground for the declaration of our
Lord, that the one great work which every fallen man has to perform, and
must perform, in order to salvation, is faith in _another's_ work, and
confidence in _another's_ righteousness. If man is to be saved by his own
righteousness, that righteousness must begin at the very beginning of his
existence, and go on without interruption. If he is to be saved by his
own good works, there never must be a single instant in his life when he
is not working such works. But beyond all controversy such is not the
fact. It is, therefore, impossible for him to be justified by trusting in
himself; and the only possible mode that now remains, is to trust in

II. And this brings us to the second part of our subject. "This is the
work of God, that ye _believe_ on him whom He hath sent." It will be
observed that faith is here denominated a "work." And it is so indeed. It
is a mental act; and an act of the most comprehensive and energetic
species. Faith is an active principle that carries the whole man with it,
and in it,--head and heart, will and affections, body soul and spirit.
There is no act so all-embracing in its reach, and so total in its
momentum, as the act of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In this sense, it
is a "work." It is no supine and torpid thing; but the most vital and
vigorous activity that can be conceived of. When a sinner, moved by the
Holy Ghost the very source of spiritual life and energy, casts himself in
utter helplessness, and with all his weight, upon his Redeemer for
salvation, never is he more active, and never does he do a greater work.

And yet, faith is not a work in the common signification of the word. In
the Pauline Epistles, it is generally opposed to works, in such a way as
to exclude them. For example: "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By
what law? of works? Nay, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude
that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law. Knowing
that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by the faith of
Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be
justified, by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law.
Received ye the Spirit, by the works of the law, or by the hearing of
faith?"[1] In these and other passages, faith and works are directly
contrary to each other; so that in this connection, faith is not a
"work." Let us examine this point, a little in detail, for it will throw
light upon the subject under discussion.

In the opening of the discourse, we alluded to the fact that when a man's
attention is directed to the subject of his soul's salvation, his first
spontaneous thought is, that he must of _himself_ render something to
God, as an offset for his sins; that he must perform his duty by _his
own_ power and effort, and thereby acquire a personal merit before his
Maker and Judge. The thought of appropriating another person's work, of
making use of what another being has done in his stead, does not occur to
him; or if it does, it is repulsive to him. His thought is, that it is
his own soul that is to be saved, and it is his own work that must save
it. Hence, he begins to perform religious duties in the ordinary use of
his own faculties, and in his own strength, for the purpose, and with the
expectation, of _settling the account_ which he knows is unsettled,
between himself and his Judge. As yet, there is no faith in another
Being. He is not trusting and resting in another person; but he is
trusting and resting in himself. He is not making use of the work or
services which another has wrought in his behalf, but he is employing
his own powers and faculties, in performing these his own works, which he
owes, and which, if paid in this style, he thinks will save his soul.
This is the spontaneous, and it is the correct, idea of a "work,"--of
what St. Paul so often calls a "work of the law." And it is the exact
contrary of faith.

For, faith never does anything in this independent and self-reliant
manner. It does not perform a service in its own strength, and then hold
it out to God as something for Him to receive, and for which He must pay
back wages in the form of remitting sin and bestowing happiness. Faith is
wholly occupied with _another's_ work, and _another's_ merit. The
believing soul deserts all its own doings, and betakes itself to what a
third person has wrought for it, and in its stead. When, for
illustration, a sinner discovers that he owes a satisfaction to Eternal
Justice for the sins that are past, if he adopts the method of works, he
will offer up his endeavors to obey the law, as an offset, and a reason
why he should be forgiven. He will say in his heart, if he does not in
his prayer: "I am striving to atone for the past, by doing my duty in the
future; my resolutions, my prayers and alms-giving, all this hard
struggle to be better and to do better, ought certainly to avail for my
pardon." Or, if he has been educated in a superstitious Church, he will
offer up his penances, and mortifications, and pilgrimages, as a
satisfaction to justice, and a reason why he should be forgiven and made
blessed forever in heaven. That is a very instructive anecdote which St.
Simon relates respecting the last hours of the profligate Louis XIV. "One
day,"--he says,--"the king recovering from loss of consciousness asked
his confessor, Pere Tellier, to give him absolution for all his sins.
Pere Tellier asked him if he suffered much. 'No,' replied the king,
'that's what troubles me. I should like to suffer more, for the expiation
of my sins.'" Here was a poor mortal who had spent his days in carnality
and transgression of the pure law of God. He is conscious of guilt, and
feels the need of its atonement. And now, upon the very edge of eternity
and brink of doom, he proposes to make his own atonement, to be his own
redeemer and save his own soul, by offering up to the eternal nemesis
that was racking his conscience a few hours of finite suffering, instead
of betaking himself to the infinite passion and agony of Calvary. This is
a work; and, alas, a "_dead_ work," as St. Paul so often denominates it.
This is the method of justification by works. But when a man adopts the
method of justification by faith, his course is exactly opposite to all
this. Upon discovering that he owes a satisfaction to Eternal Justice for
the sins that are past, instead of holding up his prayers, or
alms-giving, or penances, or moral efforts, or any work of his own, he
holds up the sacrificial work of Christ. In his prayer to God, he
interposes the agony and death of the Great Substitute between his guilty
soul, and the arrows of justice.[2] He knows that the very best of his
own works, that even the most perfect obedience that a creature could
render, would be pierced through and through by the glittering shafts of
violated law. And therefore he takes the "shield of faith." He places the
oblation of the God-man,--not his own work and not his own suffering, but
another's work and another's suffering,--between himself and the judicial
vengeance of the Most High. And in so doing, he works no work of his own,
and no dead work; but he works the "work of God;" he _believes_ on Him
whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation for his sins, and not for
his only but for the sins of the whole world.

This then is the great doctrine which our Lord taught the Jews, when they
asked Him what particular thing or things they must do in order to
eternal life. The apostle John, who recorded the answer of Christ in this
instance, repeats the doctrine again in his first Epistle: "Whatsoever we
ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandment, 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" (1 John
iii, 22, 23). The whole duty of sinful man is here summed up, and
concentrated, in the duty to trust in another person than himself, and in
another work than his own. The apostle, like his Lord before him, employs
the singular number: "This is His commandment,"--as if there were no
other commandment upon record. And this corresponds with the answer which
Paul and Silas gave to the despairing jailor: "Believe on the Lord Jesus
Christ,"--do this one single thing,--"and thou shalt be saved." And all
of these teachings accord with that solemn declaration of our Lord: "He
that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth
not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." In
the matter of salvation, where there is faith in Christ, there is
everything; and where there is not faith in Christ, there is nothing.

1. And it is with this thought that we would close this discourse, and
enforce the doctrine of the text. Do whatever else you may in the matter
of religion, you have done nothing until you have believed on the Lord
Jesus Christ, whom God hath, sent into the world to be the propitiation
for sin. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, it is _the
appointment and declaration of God_, that man, if saved at all, must be
saved by faith in the Person and Work of the Mediator. "Neither is there
salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given
among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts iv. 12). It of course rests
entirely with the Most High God, to determine the mode and manner in
which He will enter into negotiations with His creatures, and especially
with His rebellious creatures. He must make the terms, and the creature
must come to them. Even, therefore, if we could not see the
reasonableness and adaptation of the method, we should be obligated to
accept it. The creature, and particularly the guilty creature, cannot
dictate to his Sovereign and Judge respecting the terms and conditions by
which he is to be received into favor, and secure eternal life. Men
overlook this fact, when they presume as they do, to sit in judgment upon
the method of redemption by the blood of atonement and to quarrel with

In the first Punic war, Hannibal laid siege to Saguntum, a rich and
strongly-fortified city on the eastern coast of Spain. It was defended
with a desperate obstinacy by its inhabitants. But the discipline, the
energy, and the persistence of the Carthaginian army, were too much for
them; and just as the city was about to fall, Alorcus, a Spanish
chieftain, and a mutual friend of both of the contending parties,
undertook to mediate between them. He proposed to the Saguntines that
they should surrender, allowing the Carthaginian general to make his own
terms. And the argument he used was this: "Your city is captured, in any
event. Further resistance will only bring down upon you the rage of an
incensed soldiery, and the horrors of a sack. Therefore, surrender
immediately, and take whatever Hannibal shall please to give. You cannot
lose anything by the procedure, and you may gain something, even though
it be little."[3] Now, although there is no resemblance between the
government of the good and merciful God and the cruel purposes and
conduct of a heathen warrior, and we shrink from bringing the two into
any kind of juxtaposition, still, the advice of the wise Alorcus to the
Saguntines is good advice for every sinful man, in reference to his
relations to Eternal Justice. We are all of us at the mercy of God.
Should He make no terms at all; had He never given His Son to die for our
sins, and never sent His Spirit to exert a subduing influence upon our
hard hearts, but had let guilt and justice take their inexorable course
with us; not a word could be uttered against the procedure by heaven,
earth, or hell. No creature, anywhere can complain of justice. That is an
attribute that cannot even be attacked. But the All-Holy is also the
All-Merciful. He has made certain terms, and has offered certain
conditions of pardon, without asking leave of His creatures and without
taking them into council, and were these terms as strict as Draco,
instead of being as tender and pitiful as the tears and blood of Jesus,
it would become us criminals to make no criticisms even in that extreme
case, but accept them precisely as they were offered by the Sovereign and
the Arbiter. We exhort you, therefore, to take these terms of salvation
simply as they are given, asking no questions, and being thankful that
there are any terms at all between the offended majesty of Heaven and the
guilty criminals of earth. Believe on Him whom God hath sent, because it
is the appointment and declaration of God, that if guilty man is to be
saved at all, he must be saved by faith in the Person and Work of the
Mediator. The very disposition to quarrel with this method implies
arrogance in dealing with the Most High. The least inclination to alter
the conditions shows that the creature is attempting to criticise the
Creator, and, what is yet more, that the criminal has no true perception
of his crime, no sense of his exposed and helpless situation, and
presumes to dictate the terms of his own pardon!

2. We might therefore leave the matter here, and there would be a
sufficient reason for exercising the act of faith in Christ. But there is
a second and additional reason which we will also briefly urge upon you.
Not only is it the Divine appointment, that man shall be saved, if saved
at all, by the substituted work of another; but there are _needs_, there
are crying _wants_, in the human conscience, that can be supplied by no
other method. There is a perfect _adaptation_ between the Redemption that
is in Christ Jesus, and the guilt of sinners. As we have seen, we could
reasonably urge you to Believe in Him whom God hath sent, simply because
God has sent Him, and because He has told you that He will save you
through no other name and in no other way, and will save you in this name
and in this way. But we now urge you to the act of faith in this
substituted work of Christ, because it has an _atoning_ virtue, and can
pacify a perturbed and angry conscience; can wash out the stains of guilt
that are grained into it; can extract the sting of sin which ulcerates
and burns there. It is the idea of _expiation_ and _satisfaction_ that we
now single out, and press upon your notice. Sin must be
expiated,--expiated either by the blood of the criminal, or by the blood
of his Substitute. You must either die for your own sin, or some one who
is able and willing must die for you. This is founded and fixed in the
nature of God, and the nature of man, and the nature of sin. There is an
eternal and necessary connection between crime and penalty. The wages of
sin is death. But, all this inexorable necessity has been completely
provided for, by the sacrificial work of the Son of God. In the gospel,
God satisfies His own justice for the sinner, and now offers you the full
benefit of the satisfaction, if you will humbly and penitently accept it.
"What compassion can equal the words of God the Father addressed to the
sinner condemned to eternal punishment, and having no means of redeeming
himself: 'Take my Only-Begotten Son, and make Him an offering for
thyself;' or the words of the Son: 'Take Me, and ransom thy soul?' For
this is what _both_ say, when they invite and draw man to faith in the
gospel."[4] In urging you, therefore, to trust in Christ's vicarious
sufferings for sin, instead of going down to hell and suffering for sin
in your own person; in entreating you to escape the stroke of justice
upon yourself, by believing in Him who was smitten in your stead, who
"was wounded for your transgressions and bruised for your iniquities;" in
beseeching you to let the Eternal Son of God be your Substitute in this
awful judicial transaction; we are summoning you to no arbitrary and
irrational act. The peace of God which it will introduce into your
conscience, and the love of God which it will shed abroad through your
soul, will be the most convincing of all proofs that the act of faith in
the great Atonement does no violence to the ideas and principles of the
human constitution. No act that contravenes those intuitions and
convictions which are part and particle of man's moral nature could
possibly produce peace and joy. It would be revolutionary and anarchical.
The soul could not rest an instant. And yet it is the uniform testimony
of all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, that the act of simple
confiding faith in His blood and righteousness is the most peaceful, the
most joyful act they ever performed,--nay, that it was the first
_blessed_ experience they ever felt in this world of sin, this world of
remorse, this world of fears and forebodings concerning judgment and

Is the question, then, of the Jews, pressing upon your mind? Do you ask,
What one particular single thing shall I do, that I may be safe for time
and eternity? Hear the answer of the Son of God Himself: "This is the
work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent."

[Footnote 1: Romans iii. 27, 28; Galatians ii. 16, iii. 2.]

[Footnote 2: The religious teacher is often asked to define the act of
faith, and explain the way and manner in which the soul is to exercise
it. "_How_ shall I believe?" is the question with which the anxious mind
often replies to the gospel injunction to believe. Without pretending
that it is a complete answer, or claiming that it is possible, in the
strict meaning of the word, to explain so simple and so profound an act
as faith, we think, nevertheless, that it assists the inquiring mind to
say, that whoever _asks in prayer_ for any one of the benefits of
Christ's redemption, in so far exercises faith in this redemption.
Whoever, for example, lifts up the supplication, "O Lamb of God
who takest away the sins of the world, grant me thy peace," in this
prayer puts faith in the atonement, He trusts in the atonement, by
_pleading_ the atonement,--by mentioning it, in his supplication,
as the reason why he may be forgiven. In like manner, he who asks for the
renewing and sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost exercises faith, in
these influences. This is the mode in which he expresses his _confidence_
in the power of God to accomplish a work in his heart that is beyond his
own power. Whatever, therefore, be the particular benefit in Christ's
redemption that one would trust in, and thereby make personally his own,
that he may live by it and be blest by it,--be it the atoning blood, or
be it the indwelling Spirit,--let him _ask_ for that benefit. If he would
trust _in_ the thing, let him ask _for_ the thing.

Since writing the above, we have met with a corroboration of this view,
by a writer of the highest authority upon such points. "Faith is that
inward sense and act, of which prayer is the _expression_; as is evident,
because in the same manner as the freedom of grace, according to the
gospel covenant, is often set forth by this, that he that _believes_,
receives; so it also oftentimes is by this, that he that _asks_, or
_prays_, or _calls upon_ God, receives. 'Ask and it shall be given you;
seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. For
every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to
him that knocketh, it shall be opened. And all things whatsoever ye shall
_ask in prayer, believing_, ye shall receive (Matt. vii. 7, 8; Mark xi.
24). If ye _abide_ in me and my words abide in you, ye shall _ask_ what
ye will, and it shall be done unto you' (John xv. 7). Prayer is often
plainly spoken of as the expression of faith. As it very certainly is in
Romans x. 11-14: 'For the Scripture saith, Whosoever _believeth_ on him
shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and
the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that _call_ upon
him; for whosoever shall _call_ upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
'How then shall they _call_ on him in whom they have not _believed_.'
Christian prayer is called the prayer of _faith_ (James v. 15). 'I will
that men everywhere lift up holy hands, without wrath and _doubting_ (1
Tim. ii. 8). Draw near in full assurance of _faith_' (Heb. x. 22). The
same expressions that are used, in Scripture, for faith, may well be used
for prayer also; such as _coming_ to God or Christ, and _looking_ to Him.
'In whom we have boldness and _access_ with confidence, by the _faith_ of
him' (Eph. iii. 12)." EDWARDS: Observations concerning Faith.]

[Footnote 3: Livius: Historia, Lib. xxi. 12.]

[Footnote 4: ANSELM: Cur Deus Homo? II. 20.]

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest