Delivered on Sabbath Morning, July 26, 1857, by
"And he said unto him, if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.Luke 16:31.
AN is very loath to think ill of himself. The most of mankind are very prone to indulge in apologies for sin. They say, "If we had lived in better times we had been better men; if we had been born into this world under happier auspices we should have been holier; and if we had been placed in more excellent circumstances we should have been more inclined to the right." The mass of men, when they seek the cause of their sin, seek it anywhere but in the right place. They will not blame their own nature for it; they will not find fault with their own corrupt heart, but they will lay the blame anywhere else. Some of them find fault with their peculiar position. "If," says one, "I had been born rich, instead of being poor, I should not have been dishonest." "Or if," says another, "I had been born in middle life, instead of being rich, I should not have been exposed to such temptations to lust and pride as I am now; but my very condition is so adverse to piety, that I am compelled by the place I hold in society, to be anything but what I ought to be." Others turn round and find fault with the whole of society; they say that the whole organism of society is wrong; they tell us that everything in government, everything that concerns the state, everything which melts men into commonwealths, is all so bad that they cannot be good while things are what they are. They must have a revolution, they must upset everything; and then they think they could be holy! Many on the other hand throw the blame on their training. If they had not been so brought up by their parents, if they had not been so exposed in their youth, they would not have been what they are. It is their parent's fault; the sin lay at their father's or their mother's door. Or it is their constitution. Hear them speak for themselves, "If I had such a temper as so-and-so, what a good man I would be! But with my headstrong disposition it is impossible. It is all very well for you to talk to me but men have different turns of mind, and my turn of mind is such that I could not by any means be a serious character;" and so he throws the blame on his constitution. Others go a deal farther, and throw the blame on the ministry. "If," say they, "at one time the minister had been more earnest in preaching, I should have been a better man; if it had been my privilege to sit under sounder doctrine and hear the Word more faithfully preached, I should have been better." Or else they lay it at the door of professors of religion, and say, "If the church were more consistent, if there were no hypocrites and no formalists: then we should reform!" Ah! sirs, you are putting the saddle on the wrong horse, you are laying the burden on the wrong back; the blame is in your hearts, nowhere else. If your hearts were renewed you would be better; but until that is done, if society were remodelled to perfection, if ministers were angels, and professors of religion were seraphs, you would be none the better; but having less excuse for your sin, you would be doubly guilty, and perish with a more terrible destruction. But yet men will always be having it, that if things were different they would be different too, whereas, the difference must be made in themselves, if they begin in the right place.
Where solid pleasures never die,
And fruits immortal feast the soul.'
Surely he would have brought down with him some handfuls of the clusters of Eshcol; he would have been able to tell us some celestial secrets, which would have cheered our hearts, and nerved us to run the heavenly race, and put a cheerful courage on." Stop, that is a dream too. A spirit of the just descending from heaven could tell us no more that would be of any use to us than we know already. What more could that spirit from heaven tell us of the pains of hell than we do already know? Is not the Bible explicit enough? Did not the lips of Christ dreadfully portray the lake of fire? Did he not, even he who went over men, did he not in awful language tell us that God would say at last, "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels?" Do you need more thrilling words than these? "The worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched." Do you need more terrible warnings than these,"The wicked shall be cast into hell, with all the nations that forget God?" Do you want more awful warnings than this"Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" What! do you want a fuller declaration than the words of God. "Tophet is prepared of old; the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord like a stream of brimstone doth kindle it?" You cannot want more than Scripture gives of that. Even that you try to run away and escape from; you say the book is too horrible, and tells you too much of damnation and hell. Sirs, if you think there is too much there, and therefore reject it, would you stand for an instant to listen to one who should tell you more? No; ye do not wish to know more, nor would it be of any use to you if you did. Do you need more details concerning the judgment, that day of wrath to which each of us is drawing nigh? Are we not told that the king "shall sit on the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all people; and he shall divide them the one from the other, as the shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats." Suppose there were one here who had seen the solemn preparation for the great assizeone who had stood where the throne is to be planted, and had marked the future with a more piercing eye than ours. Yet of what avail would it be to us? Could he tell us more than Holy Writ hath told us nowat least, any which would be more profitable? Perhaps he knows no more than we. And one thing I am sure of, he would not tell us more about the rule of judgment than we know now. Spirit that hath returned from another world, tell me, how are men judged? Why are they condemned? Why are they saved? I hear him say, "Men are condemned because of sin. Read the ten commandments of Moses, and you will find the ten great condemnations whereby men are for ever cue off." I knew that before, bright Spirit; thou hast told me nothing! "No," says he, "and nothing can I tell." "Because I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was sick, and ye visited me not; I was in prison, and ye came not unto me; therefore, inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me. Depart, ye cursed!" "Why, Spirit, was that the word of the King?" "It was," says he, "I have read that, too, thou hast told me no more." If you do not know the difference between right and wrong from reading the Scripture, you would not know it if a spirit should tell you; if you do not know the road to hell and the road to heaven from the Bible itself, you would never know it at all. No book could be more clear, no revelation more distinct, no testimony more plain. And since without the agency of the Spirit, these testimonies are insufficient for salvation, it follows that no further declaration would avail. Salvation is ascribed wholly to God, and man's ruin only to man. What more could a spirit tell us, thana distinct declaration of the two great truths."O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help found!"
Beloved, we do solemnly say again, that Holy Scripture is so perfect, so complete, that it cannot want the supplement of any declaration concerning a future state. All that you ought to know concerning the future you may know from Holy Scripture. It is not right to say with Young
And o'er life's narrow verge look down,
On what? A bottomless abyss,
A dread eternity."
It is not right to say that, as if it were all we know. Blessed be God, the saint does not look down upon a bottomless abyss; he looks up to the celestial "city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Nor do even the wicked look down upon an unknown abyss; for to them it is clearly revealed. Though "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard," the tortures of the lost yet hath Holy Scripture sufficiently told us of them to make it a well-mapped road; so that when they meet with death, and hell, and terror, it shall be no new thing; for they heard of it before, and it was distinctly revealed to them. Nothing more could we know that would be of any use. Tattlers, idle curiosity people, and such like, would be mightily delighted with such a man. Ah! what a precious preacher he would be to them, if they could get him all the way from heaven, and get him to tell all its secrets out! Oh! how would they love himhow would they delight in him! "For," say they "he knows a great deal more than anybody else; he knows a great deal more than the Bible tells us; he knows a great many little details, and it is wonderful to hear him explain them!" But there the matter would end. It would be merely the gratification of curiosity; there would be no conferring of blessing; for if to know more of the future state would be a blessing for us, God would not withhold it; there can be no more told us.-If what you know would not persuade you, "Neither would you be persuaded though one rose from the dead."
III. Yet some say, SURELY, IF THERE WERE NO GAIN IN MATTER, YET THERE WOULD BE A GAIN IN MANNER. Oh, if such a spirit had descended from the spheres, how would he preach! What eloquence celestial would flow from his lips! How majestically would he word his speech! How mightily would he move his hearers! What marvellous words would he utter! What sentences that might start us from our feet, and make us quiver with their thrilling influence. There would be no dulness in such a preacher; it would be no fatigue to hear him; there would be no want of affection in him, and surely no want of earnestness; we might well be pleased to hear him every day, and never weary with his wondrous speech. Such a preacher earth hath never heard. Oh, if he would but come! How would we listen!"Stay! that too is a dream. I do believe that Lazarus from Abraham's bosom would not be so good a preacher as a man who has not died, but whose lips have been touched with a live coal from off the altar. Instead of his being better, I cannot see that he would be quite so good. Could a spirit from the other world speak to you more solemnly than Moses and the prophets have spoken? Or could they speak more solemnly than you have heard the word spoken to you at divers times already? O sirs, some of you have heard sermons that have been as solemn as death and as serious as the grave. I can recall to some of your memories seasons when you have sat beneath the sound of the word, wondering and trembling all the while. It seemed as if the minister had taken to himself bow and arrows, and were making your conscience the butt at which his shafts were levelled. You have not known where you were, you have been so grievously frighted and smitten with terror that your knees did knock together, and your eyes ran with tears. What more do you want than that? If that solemn preaching of some mighty preacher whom God had inspired for the timeif that did not save you, what can save you, apart from the influence of the Spirit? And oh! you have heard more solemn preaching than that. You had a little daughter once; that child of yours had been to the Sabbath-school; it came home, and was sick unto death you watched it by night and day, and the fever grew upon it; and you saw that it must die. You have not forgotten yet how your little daughter Mary preached you a sermon that was solemn indeed: just before she departed she took your hand in her little hand, and she said, "Father, I am going to heaven; will you follow me?" That was a solemn sermon to you. What more could sheeted dead have said? Ye have not forgotten yet, how when your father lay a dying(a holy man of God he had been in his day, and served his Master well)you with your brothers and sisters stood around the bed, and he addressed you one by one. Woman! you have not forgotten yet, despite all your sin and wickedness since then, how he looked you in the face and said, "My daughter, 'twere better for thee that thou hadst never been born than that thou shouldst be a despiser of Christ and a neglecter of his salvation." And you have not forgotten how he looked when with solemn tears in his eyes he addressed you and said, "My children, I charge you by death and by eternity, I charge you, if you love your own souls, despise not the gospel of Christ; forsake your follies, and turn unto God and live." What preacher do you want better than that? What voice more solemn than the voice of that of your own parent upon the confines of eternity? And you have not yet quite clean escaped from the influence of another solemn scene. You had a friend, a so-called friend; he was a traitor, one who lived in sin and rebelled against God with a high hand and an outstretched arm. You remember his death-bed, when he lay near to death terrors got hold of him; the flames of hell began to get their grip of him, before he had clean departed. You have not yet forgotten his shrieks, his screams, you have not yet quite got from your vision in your dreams that hand through which the finger nails were almost pierced in agony, and that face, contorted with direful twitchings of dismay. You have not clear escaped yet from that horrid yell with which the spirit entered the realm of darkness and forsook the land of the living. What more of a preacher do you want? Have you heard this preaching, and yet have you not repented? Then verily, if after all this you are hardened, neither would you be persuaded though one rose from the dead.
Ah! but you say, you want some one to preach to you more feelingly. Then, Sir, you cannot have him in the preacher you desire. A spirit from heaven could not be a feeling preacher. It would be impossible for Lazarus, who had been in Abraham's bosom, to preach to you with emotion. As a perfect being of course he must be supremely happy. Imagine this morning a supremely happy being preaching to you, about repentance and the wrath of God. Do you not see him? there is a placid smile ever upon his brow; the light of heaven gilds his face, he is talking about the torments of hell, it was the place for sighs and groans; but he cannot sigh, his face is just as placid as ever. He is specking of the torments of the wicked, it was the time for tears; he cannot weep; that were incompatible with blessedness. The man is preaching of dreadful things with a smile upon his face; there is summer on his brow, and winter on his lipsheaven in his eyes, and hell in his mouth. You could not bear such a preacher; he would seem to mock you. Ay, it needs a man to preach a man like yourselves, who is capable of feeling. There wants one who, when he preaches of Christ, smiles on his hearers with lovewho, when he tells of terror, quails in his own spirit whilst he utters the wrath of God. The great power of preaching, next to the power of God's Spirit, lies in the preacher's feeling it. We shall never do much good in preaching unless we feel what we utter. "Knowing the terrors of the Lord we persuade men." Now a glorified spirit from heaven could not feel these things; he could show but little emotion. True, he could speak of the glories of heaven; and how would his face grow brighter, and brighter, and brighter, as he told the wonders of that upper world! But when he came to cry "Flee from the wrath to come," the voice would sound as sweet when he spoke of death and judgment, as when he spoke of glory; and that would make sad discord, the sound not answering to the sensethe modulations of his voice being unfit to express the idea upon the mind. Such a preacher could not be a powerful preacher, even though he came again from the dead.
And one thing we may say, he could not preach more closely home to you than you have had the truth preached to you. I shall not say that you have had preaching put very close to you from the pulpit. I have striven to be very personal sometimes: I have not shunned to point some of you out in the congregation, and given you a word of rebuke, such as you could not mistake nor if I knew that any of you were indulging in sin would I spare you. I bless God that I am not afraid to be a personal preacher, and to shoot the arrow at each separate man when he needs it. But, nevertheless, I cannot preach home to you as I would. Ye are all thinking your neighbor is intended, when it is yourself. But you have had a personal preacher once. There was a great preacher called at your house one day; his name was Cholera and Death. A terrible preacher he! With grim words and hard accent he came and laid his hand upon your wife; and then he put his other hand on you, and you grew cold and well-nigh stiff: You remember how he preached to you then. He made your conscience ring again and again; he would not let you lie still; he cried aloud concerning your sin and your iniquity; he brought all your past life to light, and set all your evil conduct in review. From your childhood even up till then he led you through all your wanderings: and then he took the whip of the law, and began to plough your back with furrows. He affrighted you with "the wrath to come." You sent for the minister; you bade him pray; you thought you prayed yourself; and after all that, that preacher went away, and he had come on a fruitless errand; no good had been done to you; you had been a little startled and a little stirred, but you are to-day what you were then, unsaved and unconverted. Then, sir, you would not be converted, though one rose from the dead. You have been wrecked at sea; you have been cast into the jaws of the grave by fever; you have been nearly smitten to death by accident; and yet, with all this personal preaching, and with Mr. Conscience thundering in your ears, you are to-day unconverted. Then learn this truth, that no outward means in the world can ever bring you to the footstool of divine grace and make you a Christian, if Moses and the prophets have failed. All that can be done now is this: God the Spirit must bless the word to you otherwise conscience cannot awaken you, reason cannot awaken you, powerful appeals cannot awaken you persuasion cannot bring you to Christ. Nothing will ever do it except God the Holy Spirit. Oh! do you feel that you are drawn this morning? Does some sweet hand draw you to Christ, and does some blessed voice say, "Come to Jesus, sinner; there is hope for thee." Then that IS God's Spirit. Bless him for it! He is drawing thee by the bands of love and the cords of a man. But oh, if thou be undrawn and left to thyself, thou wilt surely die. Brethren and sisters in the faith, let us lift up our prayers to God for sinners, that they may be drawn to Christthat they may be led to come, all guilty and burdened, and look to Jesus to be lightened, and that they may be persuaded, by the coming power of the Spirit, to take Christ to be their "all-in-all," knowing that they themselves are 'nothing at all." O God the Holy Spirit bless these words, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen and Amen.