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This text certainly does not insinuate that it is impossible to obtain a pure heart or to be made pure from sin. But it does teach what the whole tenor of Scripture makes plain, that no man can save himself or purify his own heart. While each one can comply with the conditions of salvation and be saved, yet no one has the power to do the work himself. This great fact is made plain by that wonderful text of Jeremiah 13:23: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” If the Ethiopian has power to change his skin, or the leopard his spots, then the sinner has power to change his life in and of himself. But the thought is, that if these cannot change skin or spots of themselves, then no one can change himself from bad to good. The reason is obvious. It is somewhat on the principle that no man can lift himself over the fence by his boot-straps. We once saw a picture in natural philosophy of a man in a boat, with sail up, and bellows working in the stern of the craft, blowing on the sail. Now, the question arises, Why could not one lift himself over the fence with his bootstraps, or the boat be propelled by blowing on the sails? Simply because there is a back action in the whole business. When the power is exerted to accomplish the work there is a corresponding backward pressure which neutralizes the effort, and there is consequently a standstill. So it is in salvation. No man can save himself or make his own heart clean. There is a back action in it. There is a neutralizing force that brings things to a standstill. Here we see the utter failure of morality in saving the soul. Salvation comes from a power outside of self-effort. And yet one must put himself where that power can be exerted. We sometimes hear people say they believe in “working out their own salvation, with fear and trembling,” as if salvation could be wrought out by any work on our part. How can one work out salvation when he has no salvation on hand? As well might Adam have tried to breathe in the Garden of Eden, before God put the breath of life in him. The one who expects to work out his salvation before God puts the salvation into him certainly has a very discouraging outlook before him. As well might a woman try to keep house without something to keep house on; or a grocer try to run a grocery store without any groceries On hand. There is altogether too much confidence placed in self-effort. If it were possible for one to save himself, why did Jesus Christ come into this world to save us? Did He come on a picnic excursion? Did He come just to show people how to live well? Was an example all that was necessary to save men, and could humanity do the rest? Is the vicarious atonement of Christ a humbug? Was there no danger of men going to an awful hell? Imagine one sitting high and dry on the beach, and another excitedly throwing him a life preserver, and shouting, “Escape for your life!” If he did not think the man utterly crazy, he would at least think it was worthless and uncalled for interest he was taking in him. But, on the other hand, if that same person was out in the sea drowning, and some one should throw him a life-preserver, he certainly would not think it was out of place, but would quickly lay hold on it and be saved. The Savior did not look down on this old world and behold it high and dry, free from all danger; but saw a terrible wreck, and thus heaven’s great Life-preserver came by, that all might lay hold on Him and be rescued from sin and hell.
Some people turn over a new leaf, as if that would save them. Resolution is good, and no one can be saved without a resolution to live a better life; but all the resolution in the world will avail nothing in the way of salvation unless it brings one to Christ, who must do the saving. If one had the power to turn over a new leaf, and from that moment should never commit another sin, he would he lost just the same as if he had not resolved to do better. The explanation is this: Salvation does not consist in proper action simply from a given point in life till its close (even if that were possible). To the sinner it means not only right conduct, but it reaches both backward and forward. While the resolution is good, and ought to be made, yet there is a multitude of sins which he has committed in the past which must be settled and forgiven; and turning over his new leaf does not blot out the dark record. Thus, if one had power to live from this on without committing any more sin, he already has on him enough to sink him into hell. Suppose I go to the grocery store and purchase a bill of goods. I cannot pay cash for them, so obtain credit. My bill runs up to fifty dollars. I ponder it over in my mind, and come to the conclusion that I am not treating the grocer right.
He has been very kind to me, and now it is time that I was turning over a new leaf. With a determined resolution to do the right thing from this on, I go to my grocer and tell him that I have not been treating him right; that I have turned over a new leaf, and from this on will pay cash for all I get. I purchase some more groceries, paying for them, and promising him that it will continue this way in the future. Now, this would certainly be better than the former method of running in debt, but what would the grocer think of my plan? While he certainly would be glad for the change in the program, yet he would no doubt think, if he did not ask, “What about the fifty dollars you owe me?” That resolution, you see, would not settle the back bill. Neither will the sinner’s turning over a new leaf settle the past account with God. If he does not repent of the sins he has committed, and get forgiveness, he will certainly lose his soul in an awful hell. While one may pay his bill at a store, the debt he owes to God he cannot pay. He can only plead for mercy and say, “Jesus paid it all, All the debt I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” God saw that man was utterly unable to settle the account, so Christ came into the world and bore our sins in His own body on the tree, and thus opened up a possible way for all to be saved. Yet this redemption of Christ will avail the sinner nothing except he lays claim to it and avails himself of this privilege. For illustration: I lose my horse, and it wanders out upon the commons; and, being found there, it gets shut up in the pound. My friend passes by and sees the horse and recognizes my property. He inquires hew much it will cost to redeem it, and when told, immediately pays the price, and then notifies me of the fact, and tells me to come and get the horse.
He has been notifying us all down the ages to come and claim our redemptive rights. If we will not, then His redemption will avail us nothing.
When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued some years ago four millions of slaves accepted it and became free. Over eighteen hundred years ago Jesus Christ issued an emancipation proclamation, and thus offered freedom to every bond slave of the devil. Many have accepted, and many are accepting it, and liberty is theirs. If one chooses to remain in bondage and serve the devil and sin, the emancipation proclamation will profit him nothing.
The pardon of sin does not bring purity of heart. The text before us asks the question, “Who can say I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?” A clean heart and purity from sin (inbred) certainly mean holiness.
Can any one say truthfully, I have done this work myself? Who would have the egotistical impudence to fly in the face of God’s word and declare that he has sanctified himself? A believer can no more sanctify his heart than a sinner can save his own soul. It is the blood in both cases that does the mighty work. If it were possible to accomplish the work of cleansing one’s own self, why the statement, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin”?
While it is utterly impossible to do this ourselves, yet the atonement of Christ is sufficient to reach “deeper down and farther back” in the soul than sin has gone. If it cannot do this, then it is at least a partial failure. But who dares say it is a failure? It has cleansed millions before, and can do the same again. We will risk its efficacy, depend upon its merits, and trust in its power. The heart must be cleansed in this world. There is no provision for it in the text. Death is not the agency. Death is the result of sin, and sin is the work of the devil. Jesus does not need to call on the devil or any of his works to help Rim out in His work of sanctifying souls. Bozrah’s mighty Conqueror is all sufficient. Let Him undertake the contract, and He will not make any failure.