It is true, in general, that persons are affected by the subject of religion, in proportion to their conviction of its truth. In attention to religion is the great reason why so little is felt concerning it. No person can look at the great truths of religion, as truths, and not feel deeply concerning them. The devil cannot: he feels and trembles. Angels in heaven feel in view of these things. God feels! An intellectual conviction of truth is always accompanied with feelings of some kind.
One grand design God has in leaving Christians in the world after their conversion is, that they may be witnesses for God. It is that they may call the attention of the thoughtless multitude to the subject of religion, and make them see the difference in the character and destiny of those who believe and those who reject the Gospel.
Hence we see why God has scattered His children everywhere; in families, and among the nations. He never would suffer them to be all together in one place, however agreeable it might be to their feelings. He wishes them to be scattered. When the church at Jerusalem was herded together, neglecting to go forth as Christ had commanded, to preach the Gospel all over the world, God let loose a persecution upon them and scattered them abroad, and then "they went everywhere preaching the Gospel." Acts 8:4
In examining the text I propose to show:
I. TO WHAT POINTS THE CHILDREN OF GOD ARE REQUIRED TO TESTIFY.
In general, they are to testify to the truth of the Bible. They are competent witnesses to this, for they have experience of its truth. The experimental Christian has no more need of external evidence to prove the truth of the Bible to his mind, than he has to prove his own existence.
The Christian is conscious that the Bible is true. The youngest convert knows by his experience the truth of the Bible. He may hear objections from infidels, which he never thought of, and which he cannot answer, and he may be confounded; but he cannot be driven from his ground. He will say, "I cannot answer you, but I know that the Bible is true." A Christian sees his experience drawn and pictured in the Bible and he sees the likeness to be so exact that he knows that it is true.
II. HOW THEY ARE TO TESTIFY.
We are to testify of Christ by precept and example, on every proper occasion by our lips, but always by our lives. Christians have no right to be silent with their lips; they should rebuke, exhort, and entreat with all longsuffering and doctrine. But their main influence as witnesses is by their example.
They are required to be witnesses in this way, because example teaches with so much greater force than precept. This is universally known. Actions speak louder than words. But where both precept and example are brought to bear, it brings the greatest amount of influence to bear upon the minds of sinners. Christians should live in their daily walk and conversation, as if they believed the Bible.
1. They should live as if they believed the soul to be immortal and as if they believed that death will not be the termination of their existence, but only the entrance into an unchanging state. They ought to live so as to make this impression upon all around them. It is easy to see that precept without example on this point will do no good. All the arguments in the world will not convince mankind that you believe this, unless you live as if you believed it. Your reasoning may be unanswerable, but if you do not live accordingly, your practice will defeat your arguments.
2. The vanity and unsatisfying nature of the things of this world. You are to testify this by your life. The failure in this is the great stumbling-block in the way of the salvation of mankind. Here the testimony of God's children is needed more than anywhere else. Men are so struck with the objects of sense, and so constantly occupied with them, that they are very apt to shut out eternity from their minds. A small object that is held close to the eye may shut out the distant ocean. So the things of the world, which are near, magnify so in men's minds, that they overlook everything else.
One important design God has in keeping Christians in the world is, to teach people on this point. But suppose professors of religion teach the vanity of earthly things by precept, and contradict it in practice. Suppose the women are just as fond of dress, and just as particular in observing all the fashions, and the men as eager to have fineŚ houses and equipage, as the people of the world; who does not see that it would be quite ridiculous for them to testify with their lips, that this world is all vanity, and its joys unsatisfying and empty?
3. The satisfying nature of religion. Christians are bound to show by their conduct, that they are actually satisfied with the enjoyments of religion, without the pomp and vanities of the world; that the joys of religion and communion with God keep them living above the world. They are to manifest that this world is not their home. Their profession is that heaven is a reality, and that they expect to dwell there forever.
4. The guilt and danger of sinners. Christians are bound to warn sinners of their awful condition, and exhort them to flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life. But who does not know that the manner of doing this is everything? Sinners are often struck under conviction by the very manner in which something is done. There was a man once very much opposed to a certain preacher. On being asked to specify some reason for this, he replied, "I cannot bear to hear him, for he says the word 'hell' in such a way that it rings in my ears for a long time afterwards." He was displeased with the very thing that constituted the power of speaking that word.
5. The love of Christ. You are to bear witness to the reality of the love of Christ, by the regard you show for His precepts, His honour, and His kingdom. You should act as if you believed that He died for the sins of the whole world, and as if you blamed sinners for rejecting His great salvation. This is the only legitimate way in which you can impress sinners with the love of Christ. Professing Christians, instead of this, often live so as to make the impression on sinners that Christ is so compassionate that they have very little need to fear Him.
6. The necessity of holiness in order to enter heaven. It will not do to depend on talking about this. Christians must live holy lives, and thus testify that men need not expect to be saved, unless they are holy.
The idea has so long prevailed, that we cannot expect to be perfect here, that many professors of religion do not so much as seriously aim at a sinless life. They cannot honestly say that they ever really meant to live without sin. They drift along before the tides in a loose, sinful, unhappy manner, at which, doubtless, the devil laughs, because it is, of all others, the surest way to hell.
7. The necessity of self-denial, humility, and heavenly-mindedness. Christians ought to show by their own example, what the religion is, which is expected of men. That is the most powerful preaching, after all, and the most likely to have influence over the impenitent, by showing the great difference between them and Christians by a different course, by copying as near as possible their present manner of life, and conforming to them as much as they possibly can. They seem to think that they can make men fall in with religion best, by bringing religion down to their standard; as if the nearer you bring religion to the world, the more likely the world will be to embrace it.
No, the true way is to exhibit religion and the world in strong contrast, or you can never make sinners feel the necessity of a change. Until the necessity of this fundamental change is embodied and held forth in a strong light by example, how can you make men believe that they are going to be sent to hell if they are not wholly transformed in heart and life?
8. Meekness and patience. The people of God should always show a temper like the Son of God, who, when He was reviled, reviled not again. If a professor of religion is irritable, and ready to resent an injury, and fly into a passion, and take the same measures as the people of the world to get redress, by going to the law and the like; how is he to make people to believe that there is any reality in a change of heart? They cannot recommend religion while they have such a spirit. If you are in the habit of resenting injurious treatment; if you do not bear it meekly, and put the best construction that can be on it, you contradict the Gospel.
9. The necessity of entire honesty in a Christian. Oh what a field opens here for remark! But I cannot go over it fully now; it extends to all the departments of life. Christians need to show the strictest regard to integrity in every department of business, and in all their intercourse with their fellow men. If every Christian would pay a scrupulous regard to honesty, and always be conscientious to do exactly right, it would make a powerful impression on the minds of the people, of the reality of religious principle.
I am happy to say that there are some men who deal on this principle of integrity. And the wicked hate them for it; they rail against them, and vociferate in bar-rooms, that they will never buy goods from such and such individuals; and that such a hypocrite shall never touch a dollar of their money, and all that; and then they will go right away and buy from them, because they know that they will be honestly dealt with. This is a testimony to the truth of religion that is heard from Georgia to Maine.
And if Christians will do the same in politics, they will sway the destinies of nations, without involving themselves at all in the base and corrupting strife of parties. Only let Christians generally determine to vote for no man for any office, who is not an honest man, and a man of pure morals, and let it be known that Christians are united in this, whatever may be their difference in political sentiments; and no man would be put up who is not such a character.
The dishonesty of the churches is cursing the world. I am not going to preach a political sermon I assure you; but I want to show you, that if you mean to impress men favourably to your religion by your lives, you must be honest, strictly honest, in business, politics, and everything you do. What do you suppose these ungodly politicians who know themselves to be playing a dishonest game, in carrying an election, think of your religion, when they see you uniting with them? They know that you are a hypocrite.
It is unreasonable for professors of religion to wonder at the thoughtlessness of sinners. Everything considered, the carelessness of sinners is not wonderful. We are affected by testimony, and only by that testimony which is received to our minds. Sinners are so taken up with business, pleasure, and the things of the world, that they will not examine the Bible to find what religion is. Their feelings are excited only on worldly subjects, because these only are brought into warm contact with their minds. Therefore, the things of the world make a strong impression on them. But there is so little to make an impression on their minds in respect to eternity, and to bring the things of religion home to them, that they do not feel on the subject.
If they examined the subject, they would feel. But they do not examine it, nor think upon it, nor care for it. And they never will, unless God's witnesses rise up and testify. But inasmuch as the great body of Christians, in fact, live so as to testify on the other side by their conduct, how can we expect that sinners will feel correctly on the subject? Nearly all the testimony and all the influence that comes to their minds tends to make them feel the other way. God has left His cause here before the human race, and left His witnesses to testify on His behalf, and behold they all turn round and testify the other way! Is it any wonder that sinners are careless?
We see why it is that preaching does so little good, and how it is that so many sinners get hardened. Sinners who live under the preaching of the Gospel are often supposed to be hardened; but only let the churches wake up and act consistently, and they will begin to feel. If the churches were to live one week as if they believed the Bible, sinners would melt down before them.
They will never have a revival in any place, while the whole church in effect, testify against the minister. Often it is the case that where there is the most preaching, there is the least religion, because the church contradicts the preaching. I never knew means fail of a revival, where Christians lived consistently. One of the first things is to raise the standard of religion, so as to embody and hang out in the sight of all men, the truth of the Gospel. Unless ministers can get the churches to wake up, and act as if religion were true, and back their testimony by their lives, in vain will they attempt to promote a revival.
Every Christian makes an impression by his conduct, and witnesses either for the one or the other. His looks, dress, and whole demeanour, make a constant impression on the one side or the other. He cannot help testifying for or against religion. He is either gathering with Christ, or scattering abroad. At every step you tread on chords which will vibrate to all eternity. Every time you move, you touch keys whose sounds will re-echo over all the hills and dales of heaven, and through all the dark caverns of hell.
Are you going to walk in the street? Take care how you dress. What is that on your head? What does that gaudy ribbon, and those ornaments upon your dress, say, to everyone who meets you? They make the impression that you wish to be thought pretty. Take care! You might as well write on your clothes, "There is no truth in religion. Give me dress; give me fashion, and I am happy."
What is the testimony on the leaf of the record which is now sealed for the judgment concerning this day? Have you manifested a sympathy with the Son of God, when His heart is bleeding in view of the desolations of Zion? Have your children, clerks, and servants seen it be so? Have they seen a solemnity in your countenance, and tears in your eyes, in view of perishing souls?
Perhaps hundreds of souls will meet you in the judgment, and curse you for leading them to hell, by practically denying the truth of the Gospel. What will become of this city, and of the world, when the churches are united in practically testifying that God is a liar? They testify by their lives, that if they make a profession of religion and live a moral life, that is religion enough. Oh what a doctrine of devils is that! It is enough to ruin the whole human race.
HOW TO APPROACH THE UNSAVED
The object of this chapter is to direct Christians in the use of means for accomplishing their infinitely desirable end, the salvation of souls.
I. DEALING WITH CARELESS SINNERS.
1. In regard to time. It is important that you should select a proper time to try to make a serious impression on the mind of a careless sinner.
2. It is desirable, if possible, to address a person who is careless, when he is disengaged from other employments. In proportion as his attention is taken up with something else, it will be difficult to awaken him to religion.
3. It is important to take a person, if possible, at a time when he is not strongly excited with any other subject.
4. If possible, where you wish to converse with a man on the subject of salvation, take him when he is in a good temper.
5. If possible, always take an opportunity to converse with careless sinners when they are alone. Most men are too proud to be conversed with freely respecting themselves in the presence of others, even their own family.
6. Try to seize an opportunity to converse with a careless sinner, when the events of Providence seem to favour your design.
7. Seize the earliest opportunity to converse with those around you who are careless. You must seek an opportunity, and if none offers, make one. Make it look like a matter of business.
8. If you have any feeling for a particular individual, take an opportunity to converse with him while this feeling continues. If it is a truly benevolent feeling, you have reason to believe that the Spirit of God is ready to bless your efforts for his conversion. Make it the subject of special and importunate prayer
9. In regard to the manner of doing this: When you approach a careless individual, be sure to treat him kindly. Let him see that you address him, not because you seek a quarrel, but because you love his soul, and desire his best good in time and eternity.
10. Be solemn. Avoid all lightness of manner or language.
11. Be respectful. A rude or coarse style of address is only calculated to create an unfavourable opinion both of yourself and of your religion.
12. Be sure to be very plain. Do not cover up any circumstance of the person's character, and his relations to God. Lay it all open. Before you can cure a wound, you must probe it to the bottom.
13. Be sure to address his conscience. Unless you address the conscience pointedly, you get no hold of the mind at all.
14. Bring the great and fundamental truths of the Gospel to bear upon his mind.
15. Be very patient. If he has a real difficulty in his mind, be very patient until you find out what it is, and then clear it up.
16. Be careful to guard your own spirit. There are many people who have not good temper enough to converse with those who are much opposed to religion.
17. If the sinner is inclined to entrench himself against God, be careful not to take his part in anything. Bring up his particular sins, if you know his history; kindly but plainly; not to give offence, but to awaken conscience, and give full force to the truth. It is generally best to be short, and not spin out what you have to say.
II. HOW TO DEAL WITH AWAKENED SINNERS
Be careful to distinguish between an awakened sinner, and one who is under conviction. When you find a person who feels a little on the subject of religion, do not take it for granted that he is convicted of sin. Persons are often awakened by some Providential circumstance, and they are ready to hear on the subject of religion with attention and seriousness, and some feeling.
If you find a person awakened, lose no time to pour in light upon his mind. Show him the exceeding strictness of the Divine law. Make him see how it condemns his thoughts and life. Search out his heart. If possible melt him down on the spot. When once you have got a sinner's attention, very often his conviction and conversion are the work of a few moments.
III. THE MANNER OF DEALING WITH CONVICTED SINNERS
By convicted sinner, I mean one who feels himself condemned by the law of God. He sees and feels his guilty state, and knows what his remedy is. When a person is convicted, but not converted, and remains in an anxious state, there is generally some specific reason for it.
1. Sometimes the individual has some idol, something which he loves more than God, which prevents him from giving himself up.
2. Perhaps he has done an injury to some person which calls for redress, and he is unwilling to confess it, or to make a just recompense.
3. Sometimes there is some particular sin which he will not forsake. He pretends it is only a small one, or that it is no sin at all.
4. Perhaps he has a prejudice against someone, or is unwilling to forgive someone.
5. Perhaps he entertains some errors respecting the thing to be done, which may be keeping him out of the Kingdom. He may be waiting for more conviction, or he may be waiting for certain feelings.
Be careful in conversing with convicted sinners, not to make any compromise with them on any point where they have a difficulty. If you do, they will be sure to take advantage of it, and thus get a false hope.
Be sure to deal thoroughly. The Church is now filled up with hypocrites, because people were never made to see that unless they made an entire consecration of all to Christ--all their time, all their talents, all their influence--they would never get to heaven. Many think they can be Christians, and yet dream along through life. It is a sad mistake, and they will find it so.
Be careful not to mislead sinners so as to leave the impression that a selfish submission to God will answer, or a selfish acceptance of the Atonement, or a selfish giving up to Christ and receiving Him, as if a man were make a good bargain, giving up his sins, and receiving salvation in exchange. Man's selfish heart will eagerly seize such a view of religion, and thus get a false hope.
Make it an object of constant study, and of daily reflection and prayer, to learn how to deal with sinners so as to promote their conversion. It is the great business on earth of every Christian, to save souls.
HOW TO INSTRUCT ANXIOUS SINNERS
What must I do to be saved? Acts 16:30
These were the words of the jailer at Philippi: the question which he put to Paul and Silas, who were then under his care as prisoners.
It is my design to show what are the instructions that should be given to anxious sinners when they ask this question, in order to promote their speedy and effectual conversion. In doing this, I will show:
I. WHAT ARE NOT PROPER DIRECTIONS TO BE GIVEN TO ANXIOUS SINNERS.
No more important inquiry was ever made than this, "What must I do to be saved?" Mankind are apt enough to enquire, "What shall I eat, and what shall I drink?" And the question may be answered in various ways with little danger. But when a sinner asks in earnest, "What must I do to be saved?" it is of infinite importance that he should receive the right answer.
1. No direction should be given to a sinner that will leave him still in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. No answer is proper to be given, with which, if he comply, he would not go to heaven, if he should die the next moment.
2. No direction should be given that does not include a change of heart, or a right heart, or a hearty obedience to Christ. In other words, nothing is proper which does not imply actually becoming a Christian. Any other direction which falls short of this is of no value. It will not bring him any nearer the kingdom, it will do no good, but will lead him to defer the very thing which he must do in order to be saved. The sinner should be told plainly at once, what he must do or die; and he should be told nothing that does not include a right state of heart.
Whatever you may do, sinner, that does not include a right heart, is sin. Whether you read the Bible or not, it is sin, so long as you remain in rebellion against God. Whether you go to meetings, or stay away; whether you pray or not; it is nothing but rebellion every moment.
I might almost say that there is almost an endless variety of ways in which false comfort is given to anxious sinners. The more experience I have, and the more I observe the ways in which even good people deal with anxious sinners, the more I feel grieved at the endless fooleries and falsehoods with which they attempt to comfort their anxious friends, and thus, in fact, deceive them and beguile them out of their salvation.
Now God desires that they should be comforted. He is benevolent and has kind feelings, and His heart yearns over them when he sees them so distressed. But he sees that there is only one way to give a sinner real comfort. He has more benevolence and compassion than all men, and wishes to comfort them; but He has fixed the terms, as unyielding as His throne, on which He will give a sinner relief, and He will not altar. He knows that nothing else will do the sinner effectual good, for nothing can make him happy until he repents of his sins and forsakes them, and turns to God; therefore God will not yield.
Our object, in dealing with sinners, should be the same as that of God. We should feel compassion and benevolence just as He does, and be as ready to give comfort, but be sure that it is of the right kind. The fact is, our prime object should be to induce the sinner to obey God. His comfort ought to be with us, and with him, but a secondary object; and while we are more anxious to relieve his distress than to have him cease to abuse and dishonour God, we are not likely, by our instructions to do him any real good.
Overlooking this principle has often misled professors of religion, and when they have heard others dealing faithfully with anxious sinners, they have accused them of cruelty. I have often had professors of religion bring anxious sinners to me, and beg me to comfort them, and when I have probed the sinner's conscience to the quick, they have shuddered and sometimes taken the sinner's part. It is sometimes impossible to deal effectually with young people who are anxious, in the presence of their parents, because they have so much more compassion for their children than regard to the honour of God. This is all wrong; and with such views and feelings you had better hold your tongue than say anything to the anxious.
One of the ways in which people give false comfort to distressed sinners, is by asking them, "What have you done? You are not so bad." As if they had never done anything wicked, and had in reality no occasion to feel distressed at all.
No sinner ever had an idea of his sins greater than they were. No sinner ever had an adequate idea of how great a sinner he is. It is not probable that any man could live under a full sight of his sins. God has, in mercy, spared all His creatures on earth that worst of sights: a naked human heart. The sinner's guilt is much more deep and damning than he thinks, and his danger is much greater than he thinks it is; and if he should see them as they are, probably he could not live one moment.
Others tell an awakened sinner that "conversion is a progressive work," and in this way ease his anxiety. When a man is distressed because he sees himself to be such a sinner that unless he turns to God he will be damned, it is a great relief to have some friend hold out to him the idea that he can become better by degrees, and that he is now coming on little by little. They tell him, "Why, you cannot expect to get along all at once; I do not believe in these SUDDEN conversions, you must wait and let it work; you have begun well, and by and by you will get comfort."
All this is from the bottomless pit. The truth is, regeneration or conversion, is not a progressive work. What is regeneration but the beginning of obedience to God? Is that beginning of a thing progressive? It is the first act of genuine obedience to God; the first voluntary action of the mind that is what God approves, or that can be regarded as obedience to God. This is conversion.
Another way in which anxious sinners are deceived with false comfort, is by being advised to dismiss the subject for the present. Men who are supposed to be wise and good, have assumed to be so much wiser than God; and when God is dealing with a sinner by His Spirit, and is endeavouring to bring him to an immediate decision, they think that God is crowding too hard, and that it is necessary for them to interfere; and they will advise the person to take a ride, or to go into company, or to engage in business, or do something that will relieve his mind a little, at least for the present.
Such advice, if it is true conviction of sin that distresses the sinner, is, in no case, either safe or lawful. The strivings of the Holy Spirit to bring a sinner to himself, will never hurt him, nor drive him crazy. He may make himself deranged by resisting the strivings of the Spirit; but it is blasphemous to think that the blessed, wise, benevolent Spirit of God, would ever have so little care as to derange and destroy the soul He came to sanctify and save.
The proper course to take with a sinner, when the striving of the Spirit throws him into distress, is, to instruct him: clear up his views, correct his mistakes, and make the way of salvation so plain that he may see it right before him; not to dismiss the subject, but to co-operate with the Holy Spirit, and thus hush all those dreadful agonies which are produced by resisting the Holy Ghost. REMEMBER, if an awakened sinner voluntarily dismisses the subject once, probably he will never take it up again.
II. WHAT IS A PROPER ANSWER TO THE ENQUIRY, "WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?"
Generally, you may give the sinner any direction, or tell him to do anything, that includes a right heart; and if you make him understand it, and do it, he will be saved. The Spirit of God, in striving with sinners, suits His strivings to the state of mind in which He finds them. His great object in striving with them is to dislodge them from their hiding places, and bring them to submit to God at once.
1. It is generally in point, and a safe and suitable direction, to tell a sinner to repent. I say generally, for sometimes the Spirit of God seems not so much to direct the sinner's attention to his own sins as to some other thing.
In the days of the apostles, the minds of the people seem to have agitated mainly on the question whether Jesus was the Messiah. And so the apostles directed much of their attention to this point, to prove that He was the Messiah; and whenever anxious sinners asked what they must do in order to be saved, they exhorted them to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."
They bore down on this point because this was where the Spirit of God was striving with them; and this was the subject which especially agitated the minds of the people, and consequently this would probably be the first thing a person would do on submitting to God. It was the grand point at issue between God and the Jew and Gentile of those days--whether Jesus Christ was the Son of God. It was the point in dispute; to bring the sinner to yield this controverted question was the most effectual way to humble them.
At other times it will be found that the Spirit of God is dealing with sinners chiefly in reference to their own sins. Sometimes He deals with them in regard to a particular duty, such as prayer, perhaps family prayer. The sinner will be found to be contesting that point with God, whether it be right for him to pray, or whether he ought to pray in his family. I have known striking cases of this kind, where the individual was struggling on this point, and as soon as he fell on his knees to pray, he yielded his heart, showing that this was the very point which the Spirit of God was contesting; the hinge on which his controversy with God all turned. That was his conversion.
Repentance is a change of mind, as regards sin itself. It is not only a change of views concerning sin, but a change of feeling towards sin. It is what is naturally understood by a change of mind on any subject of interest and importance. We hear that such a man has changed his mind on the subject of abolition, for instance, or that he has changed his views on politics; everybody understands that he has undergone a change in his views, his feelings, and his conduct. This is repentance on that subject: it is a change of mind.
Repentance always implies abhorrence of sin. It is feeling towards sin just as God feels. It always implies forsaking sin. Sinners should be made to understand this. The sinner that repents does not feel as penitent sinners think they would feel at giving up their sins, if they should become religious. Impenitent sinners look upon religion like this: that if they become Christians, they should be obliged to stay away from balls and parties, and obliged to give up theatres, or gambling, or other things they now take delight in. And they see not however they could enjoy themselves, if they should break off from all those things.
I know there are some professors of religion who would be very glad to betake themselves to their former practices, were it not that they feel constrained, by fear of losing their character, or the like. Now, mark me; if they feel so, it is because they do not hate sin. If they desire their former ways, they have no religion, they have never repented; for repentance always consists in a change of views and feeling. If they were really converted, instead of desiring such things, they would turn away from them with loathing; instead of lusting after the flesh pots of Egypt, and desiring to go into their former circles, parties, and balls, and the like, they would find their highest pleasure in obeying God.
2. Sinners should be told to believe the Gospel. Here, also, they need to have explained to them, what is not faith, and what is. Nothing is more common than for a sinner, when told to believe the Gospel, to say, "I do believe it." The fact is, he has been brought up to admit the fact, that the Gospel is true, but he does not believe it; he knows nothing about the evidence of it, and all his faith is a mere admission without evidence.
The fact is that the careless sinner does not believe the Gospel at all. The idea that the careless sinner is an intellectual believer is absurd. The devil is an intellectual believer, and that is what makes him tremble. What makes a sinner anxious is that he begins to be an intellectual believer, and that makes him feel. No being in heaven, or earth, or hell, can intellectually believe the truths of the Gospel, and not feel on the subject.
Faith does not consist in an intellectual conviction that Christ died for you in particular, nor in a belief that you are a Christian, or that you ever shall be, or that your sins are forgiven. But faith is that trust or confidence in the Scriptures, that leads the individual to act as if they were true.
The sinner should have it explained to him, and be made to see that the faith which the Gospel requires, is just that confidence in Christ, which leads him to act on what He says as a certain fact. This is believing in Christ.
3. Another direction, proper to be given to the sinner is, that he should give his heart to God. God says, "My son, give Me thine heart." But here also there needs to be explanation, to make him understand what it is. It is amazing that there should be any darkness here. It is the language of common life, in everybody's mouth, and everybody understands just what it means, when we use it in regard to anything else. But when it comes to religion, they seem to be all in the dark.
Now to give your heart to God is the same thing as to give your heart to anyone else; the same as for a woman to give her heart to her husband. Ask that woman if she understands this, and she replies, "Oh yes, that is plain enough; it is to place my affections on him, and try to please him in everything." Very well, place your affections on God, and try to please Him in everything. Sinner, what God asks of you, is, that you should love Him supremely.
4. Submit to God, is also a proper direction to anxious sinners. And oh how dark sinners are here too! Scarcely a sinner can be found who will not tell you that he is willing to submit to God. But they do not understand it. They need to be told what true submission is. Sometimes they think that it means that they should be willing to be damned. Sometimes they place themselves in this attitude, and call it submission; they say, if they are elected they shall be saved and if not they shall be damned. This is not submission. True submission is yielding obedience to God.
5. Another proper direction to be given to a sinner is, confess and forsake your sins. This means that they should both confess and forsake them. They must confess to God their sins against God, and confess to men their sins against men, and confess them all. A man does not forsake his sins until he has made all the reparation in his power. If he has stolen money, or defrauded his neighbour out of property, he does not forsake his sins by merely resolving not to steal any more, or not to cheat again; he must make reparation to that extent of his power. So, if he has slandered anyone, he does not forsake his sin by merely saying he will not do so again, he must make reparation. So, in like manner, if he has robbed God, as all sinners have, the must make reparation as far as he has power.
What would a merchant think if his hired clerk should take all the capital and set up a store of his own, and die with it in his hands? Will such a man go to heaven? "No," you say, "if such a man does not go to hell, there might as well be no hell." God would prove Himself infinitely unjust, to let such a character go unpunished.
What then, shall we say of the man who has robbed God all his life? Here God set him to be His clerk, to manage some of His affairs, and he has gone and stolen all the money, and says it is his and he keeps it, and dies, and gives it to his children, as if it were his own lawful property. Is that man going to heaven? Has that man forsaken sin? I tell you no. If he has not surrendered himself and all to God, he has not taken the first step in the way to heaven.
6. Another proper direction to be given to sinners is, "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve." Joshua 24:15. Under the Old Testament dispensation, this, or something equivalent to it, was the most common direction given. It was not common to call on men to believe in Christ until the days of John the Baptist. Under Joshua, this was something which the people all understood more easily than they would a call to believe on the distant Messiah.
Sinners are called upon to choose--what? Whether they will serve God or the world; whether they will follow holiness or sin. Let them be made to understand what is meant by choosing, and what is to be chosen, and then if the thing be done from the heart, they will be saved.
Any of these directions, if complied with, will constitute true conversion. The particular exercises will vary in different cases. Sometimes the first exercise in conversion, is submission to God, sometimes repentance, sometimes faith, sometimes the choice of God and His service; in short, whatever their thoughts are taken up with at the time.
If their thoughts are directed to Christ at the moment, the first exercise will be faith. If to sin, the first exercise will be repentance. If to their future course of life, it is choosing the service of God. If to the divine government, it is submission. It is important to find out just where the Holy Spirit is pressing the sinner at the time, and then care to push that point; push him right up to an immediate choice of obedience to God.
III. SEVERAL ERRORS WHICH ANXIOUS SINNERS ARE APT TO FALL INTO RESPECTING THIS GREAT INQUIRY.
1. The first error is in supposing that they must make themselves better, or prepare themselves, so as in some way to recommend themselves to the mercy of God. It is marvelous that sinners will not understand that all they have to do is, to accept salvation from God, all prepared to their hands. But they all, learned or unlearned, at first betake themselves to a legal course to get relief.
This is one principal reason why they do not become Christians at once, just as soon as they begin to attend to the subject. They should be shown at once that it is impossible they should be any better until they do what God requires. During every pulse that beats, and every breath they draw, they are growing worse, because they are standing out in rebellion against God, so long as they will not do the very thing which God requires of them as the first thing to be done.
2. Another error is in supposing that they must suffer a considerable time under conviction, as a kind of punishment, before they are ready to come to Christ. And so they will pray for conviction; and they think that if they be ground down to the earth for a sufficient time, then God will pity them, and be more ready to help them when He sees them so very miserable.
They should be made to understand clearly, that they are thus unhappy and miserable, merely because they refuse to accept the relief which God offers. Take the case of the stubborn child, when his parent stands over him with the rod, and the child shudders and screams. Should that child imagine that he is gaining anything by his agony? Does his father pity him anymore because he stands out? Who does not see that he is all the while growing worse?
3. Sometimes sinners imagine that they must wait for different feelings, before they submit to God. They say, "I do not think I feel right yet to accept Christ; I do not think I am prepared to be converted yet." They ought to be made to see that what God requires of them is to feel differently; and to say they must feel differently before they obey God, is to say, "I do not feel right, because I do not feel right."
God tells the sinner to love Him, and the sinner replies, "Lord, I must wait until I feel differently." Why, sinner, you are not to wait for these feelings, as if they were to come into your mind from some other quarter. What God requires of you is, the present act of your mind, in turning from sin to holiness, and from the service of Satan to the service of the living God. They very thing required of you is to feel right; and do you wait for these feelings, as if they were not to be exercises of your own?
4. Another error of sinners is to suppose that they must wait until their hearts are changed. "What," they say, "am I to believe in Christ before my heart is changed? Do you mean that I am to repent before my heart is changed?"
Now the simple answer to all this is, that the change of heart is the very thing in question. God requires the sinner to love Him, that is, to change his heart. God requires him to repent, that is to change his heart. God requires him to believe the Gospel, that is, to change his heart. Goes does not tell him to wait until his heart is changed, and then repent and believe, and love God. To do any of these things is to change your heart, and to make you a new heart, just as God requires.
5. Sinners often get the idea that they are perfectly willing to do what God requires. Tell them to do this thing, or that, to repent or believe, to give God their hearts, and they say, "Oh yes, I am perfectly willing to do that. I wish I could do it. I would give anything if I could do it." They ought to understand that being truly willing, is doing it; but that there is a difference between willing and desiring. People often desire to be Christians, when they are wholly unwilling to be so. A man may desire to go to Philadelphia on many accounts, while, for still more weighty reasons, he chooses not to go there.
So the sinner may desire to be a Christian. He may see many good things in being a Christian. He may see that if her were a Christian he would be a good deal more happy, and that he should go to heaven when he dies, and yet he is not willing to be a Christian. WILLING TO OBEY CHRIST is to be a Christian. When an individual actually chooses to obey God, he is a Christian, but all such desires as do not terminate in actual choices, are nothing.
6. The sinner will sometimes say that he offers to give God his heart, but he intimates that God is unwilling to accept it. But this is absurd. What does God ask? Why, that you should love Him. Now, for you to say that you are willing to give God your heart, but that God is unwilling to accept it, is the same as saying, that you are willing to love God, but that God is not willing to be loved by you, and will not suffer you to love Him. It is important to clear up all these points in the sinner's mind, that he may have no dark and mysterious corner to rest in, where the truth will not reach him.
7. Sinners sometimes get the idea that they repent, when they are only convicted. Whenever the sinner is found resting in any LIE, let the truth sweep it away, however much it may pain and distress him. If he has an error of this kind, you must tear it away from him, if you do not mean that he shall stumble into the depths of hell.
8. Sinners are often wholly taken up with looking at themselves, to see if they can find something, some kind of feeling or other, that will recommend them to God. David Brainerd was for a long time taken up with his state of mind, looking for some feelings which would recommend him to God. Thus, the poor man, for want of correct instruction, was driven almost to despair, and it is easy to see that this Christian exercises through life were greatly modified, and his comfort and usefulness much impaired by the false theory he had adopted on this point.
You must turn the sinner away from himself to something else. Suppose he keeps poring over himself, until he is going into a state of despair; the proper course then is, to turn off his attention from looking at himself, and make him look at some duty to be performed, or make him look at Christ, and perhaps before he is away, he will find that he has submitted to God.
You should be careful to distinguish between an awakened sinner, and one who is under conviction. When you find a person who feels a little on the subject of religion, do not take it for granted that he is convicted of sin, and thus omit to use means to show him his sin. Persons are sometimes awakened by some providential circumstance; such as sickness, thunderstorm, pestilence, death in the family, disappointment, or the like; or by the Spirit of God, so that their ears are open, and they are ready to listen on the subject of religion with attention and seriousness, and some feeling.
If you find a person awakened, no matter by what means, lose no time to pour in light upon his mind. Do not be afraid, but show him the breadth of the divine law, and the exceeding strictness of its precepts. Make him see how it condemns his thoughts and life. Search out his heart and find what is there, and bring it up before his mind, as far as you can. If possible, melt him down on the spot. When once you have got a sinner's attention, very often his conviction and conversion are the work of a few moments. You can sometimes do more in five minutes than in years, or a whole life, while he is careless or indifferent.
Be careful to find the point where the Spirit of God is pressing a sinner, and press the same point in all your remarks. If you divert his attention from that point, you will be in great danger of destroying his convictions. Take pains to learn the state of his mind, what he is thinking of, how he feels, and what he feels most deeply upon, and then press that thoroughly; and do not divert his mind by talking about anything else.
Great evils have arisen, and many false hopes have been created, by not discriminating between an awakened and a convicted sinner. For want of this, persons who are only awakened are immediately told, "You must repent," Submit to God," when they are not in fact convinced of their guilt, nor instructed so far as even to know what submission means. This is one way in which revivals have been greatly injured.
If you are going to deal with sinners, remember that you are soon to meet them in the judgment, and be sure to treat them in such a way that if they be lost, it will be their own fault. Do not try to comfort them with false notions now, and have them reproach you with it then. Better suppress your false sympathy, and let the naked truth cleave them asunder, joints and marrow, than to smooth them with false comforts, and beguile them away from God.
Much depends on the manner in which a person is dealt with, when under conviction. Much of his future comfort and usefulness depends on the clearness, strength, and firmness, with which the directions of the Gospel are given, when he is under conviction. If those who deal with him are afraid to use the probe thoroughly, he will always be a poor, sickly, doubting Christian. If converted at all, he will never do much good.
But if, when a sinner is under conviction, you pour the truth into his mind, put in the probe, break up the old foundations, sweep away his refuges of lies, and use the Word of God like fire and like a hammer, you will find that they will come out with clear views, and strong faith, and firm principles, not a doubting, halting, irresolute Christian, but one who will follow the Lord wholly. This is the way to make strong Christians.
This has been imminently the case in many revivals in recent days. I have heard old Christians say of the converts, "These converts were born men and women, fully grown; they never were children, but have, at the very outset, all the clearness of view, and strength of faith, of old Christians. They seem to understand the doctrines of religion, and to know what to do, and how to take hold to promote revivals, better than one in a hundred of the old members in the churches."
Where instructions are not clear, and are missed up with errors, the Spirit may strive, even for years, in great mercy, to get sinners through the fog of false instruction; but not so where their duty is clearly explained to them, and they are brought right up to the single point of immediate submission, and have all their false pretences exposed, and the path of duty made perfectly plain. Then, if they do not submit, the Spirit of God forsakes them, and their state is well nigh hopeless.
There is not a case of protracted conviction recorded in the whole Bible. All the conversions recorded there, are sudden conversions. And I am persuaded there never would have been such multitudes of tedious convictions, often ending in nothing after all, if it had not been for those theological perversions which have filled the world with "cannot-ism." In Bible days they told sinners to repent, and they did it.
Afraid of sudden conversions! Some of the best Christians of my acquaintance were convicted and converted in less than an hour, and came right out to the Lord's side, and have been shining lights in the churches ever since.
Finally, never tell a sinner anything, nor give him any direction, that will lead him to stop short, or that does not include submission to God. A young in New England once met a minister in the street, and asked him what he should do to be saved. The minister told him to go home, and go into his chamber, and kneel down and give his heart to God. "Oh, sir," said the boy, "I feel so bad, I am afraid I shall not live to get home." The minister saw his error, and felt the rebuke thus unconsciously given by a child, and told him, "Well, then, give your heart to God here, and go home to your chamber and tell Him of it."