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I know there are some professors, 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. But, mark me: if they feel so, it is because they have no religion; 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 feelings. If they were really converted, instead of choosing 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, 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 it explained to them, and to be told 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. He holds it to be true, in a kind of loose, indefinite sense, so that he is always ready to say: "I do believe the Bible." It is strange that they do not see that they are deceived in thinking that they believe, for they must see that they have never acted upon these truths, as they do upon those things which they do believe. Yet it is often quite difficult to convince them that they do not believe.
But 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, earth, or hell, can intellectually believe the truths of the Gospel, and not feel on the subject. The anxious sinner has faith of the same kind with devils, but he has not so much of it, and, therefore, he does not feel so much. The man who does not feel or act at all, on the subject of religion, is an infidel, let his professions be what they may. He who feels nothing, and does nothing, believes nothing. This is a philosophical fact.
Faith does not consist in an intellectual conviction that Christ died for you in particular, or 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 God, and in Christ, which commits the whole soul to Him in all His relations to us. It is a voluntary trust in His person, His veracity, His word. This was the faith of Abraham: he had that confidence in what God said, which led him to act as accepting its truth. This is the way the apostle illustrates it in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (v. 1). And he goes on to illustrate it by various examples. "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed" (v. 3); that is, we believe this, and act accordingly.
Take the case of Noah. Noah was warned of God of things not seen as yet, that is, he was assured that God was going to drown the world, and he believed it, and acted accordingly; he prepared an ark to save his family, and by so doing, he condemned the world that would not believe; his actions gave evidence that he was sincere. Abraham, too, was called of God to leave his country, with the promise that he should be the gainer by it; and he obeyed and went out, without knowing whither he went. Read the whole chapter, and you will find many instances of the same kind. The whole design of the chapter is to illustrate the nature of faith, and to show that it invariably results in action. 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 say as being 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" (Proverbs 23:26). 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. Ask a sinner, no matter what may be his age, or education, what it means to give the heart to God, and, strange as it may appear, he is at a loss for an answer. Ask a woman, what it is to give her heart to her husband; or a man, what it is to give his heart to his wife; and they understand it. But then they are totally blind as to giving their hearts to God. I suppose I have asked more than a thousand anxious sinners this question. When I have told them, they must give their hearts to God, they have always said that they were willing to do it, and sometimes, that they were anxious to do it, and they have even seemed to be in an agony of desire about it. Then I have asked them, what they understood to be meant by giving their hearts to God, since they were so willing to do it. And very seldom have I received a correct or rational answer from a sinner of any age. I have sometimes had the strangest answers that could be imagined.
Ask that woman if she understands this. "Oh, yes, that is plain enough; it is to place my affections with him, and strive to please him in everything."
Very well, place your affections on God, and strive to please Him in everything. But when they come to the subject of religion, people suppose there is some wonderful mystery about it. Some talk as if they suppose it means taking out this bundle of muscles, or fleshy organ, in their bosom, and giving it to God. 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.
They need to be told what true submission is. Sometimes they think it means that they should be willing to be sent to perdition. Sometimes they place themselves in this attitude, and call it submission; they say that, if they are elected they will be saved; and if not, they will be lost. This is not submission. True submission is yielding obedience to God. Suppose a rebel, in arms against the Government, is called on to submit, what would he understand by it? Why, that he should yield the point, and lay down his arms, and obey the laws. That is just what it means for a sinner to submit to God. He must cease his strife and conflict against his Maker, and take the attitude of a willing and obedient child, willing to be and do whatever God requires. "Here am I" (1 Samuel 3:8); "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6.)
Suppose a company of soldiers had rebelled, and the Government had raised an army to put them down, and had driven them into a stronghold, where they were out of provisions, and had no way to escape. Suppose the rebels to have met, in this extremity, to consider what should be done; and one rises up, saying: "Well, comrades, I am convinced we are all wrong from the beginning, and now the reward of our deeds is likely to overtake us, and we cannot escape; and as for remaining here to die, I am resolved not to do it; I am going to throw myself on the mercy of the commander in chief." That man submits. He ceases from that moment to be a rebel in his heart, just as soon as he comes to this conclusion. So it is with the sinner when he yields the point, and consents in his heart to do, and be, whatever God shall require. The sinner may be in doubt what to do, and may feel afraid to put himself in God's hands, thinking that if he does, perhaps God will send him down to hell, as he deserves. But it is his business to leave all that question with God, to resist his Maker no longer, to make no conditions, but to trust wholly to God's benevolence and wisdom to appoint his future condition. Until he has done this, he has done nothing to the purpose.
5. Another proper direction to be given to sinners, is to confess and forsake their sins. They must confess to God their sins against God, and confess to men their sins against men; and forsake them all. A man does not forsake his sins till he has made all the reparation in his power. If he has stolen money, or defrauded his neighbor out of property, he does not forsake his sins by merely resolving not to steal any more, not to cheat again; he must make reparation to the extent of his power. 73 So, if he has slandered any one, 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, he must make reparation, as far as he has power.
Suppose a man has made money in rebellion against God, and has withheld from Him his time, talents, and service, has lived and rioted upon the bounties of His providence, and refused to lay himself out for the salvation of the world; he has robbed God. Now, if he should die, feeling this money to be his own, and should he leave it to his heirs without consulting the will of God - why, he is just as certain to go to hell as a highway robber. He has never made any satisfaction to God. With all his whining and pious talk, he has never confessed HIS SIN to God, nor forsaken his sin, for he has neither felt nor acknowledged himself to be the steward of God. If he refuses to hold the property in his possession as the steward of God; if he accounts it his own, and as such gives it to his children, he says in effect, to God: "That property is not Thine, it is mine, and I will give it to my children." He has continued to persevere in his sin, for he does not relinquish the ownership of that of which he has robbed God.
What would a merchant think if his 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. God would prove Himself unjust, to let such a character go unpunished. What, then, shall we say of the man who has robbed God all his life? God sent him to be His clerk, to manage some of His affairs, but he has stolen all the money, and says it is his: he keeps it, and, dying, leaves it to his children, as if it were all his own lawful property. Has that man forsaken sin? I tell you, No. If he has not surrendered himself and all he has to God, he has not taken the first step in the way to heaven.