Delivered on Sabbath Morning, December 27, 1857, by
"What have I done?"Jeremiah 8:6.
ERHAPS NO FIGURE represents God in a more gracious light than those figures of speech, which represent him as stooping from his throne, and as coming down from heaven to attend to the wants and to behold the woes of mankind. We must have love for that God, who, when Sodom and Gomorrah were reeking with iniquity, would not destroy those cities, although he knew their guilt and their wickedness, until he had made an actual visitation to them and had sojourned for awhile in their streets. Methinks we can not help pouring out our heart in affection to that God, of whom we are told that he inclines his ear from the highest glory, and puts it to the lip of the faintest that breathes out the true desire. How can we resist feeling that he is a God whom we must love, when we know that he regards everything that concerns us, numbers the very hairs of our heads, bids his angels protect our footsteps lest we dash our feet against stones, marks our path end ordereth our ways. But especially is this great truth brought near to man's heart, when we recollect how attentive God is, not merely to the temporal interests of his creatures, but to their spiritual concerns. God is represented in Scripture as waiting to be gracious, or, in the language of the parable, when his prodigals are yet a great way off he sees them; he runs and falls upon their neck and kisses them. He is so attentive to everything that is good, even in the poor sinner's heart, that to him there is music in a sigh, and beauty in a tear; and in this verse that I have just read, he represents himself as looking upon man's heart and listeninglistening, if possibly he may hear something that is good. "I hearkened and heard; I listened; I stood still, and I attended to them." And how amiable does God appear, when he is represented as turning aside, and as it were with grief in his heart, exclaiming, "I did listen, I did hearken, but they spake not aright; no man repented of his wickedness, saying, "What shall I do?" Ah! my hearer, thou never hast a desire toward God which does not excite God's hope; thou dost never breathe a prayer toward heaven which he does not notice; and though thou hast very often uttered prayers which have been as the morning cloud and as the early dew that soon passeth away, yet all these things have moved Jehovah's bowels; for he has been hearkening to thy cry and noticing the breathing of thy soul, and though it all hath passed away, yet it did not pass away unnoticed, for he remembers it even now. And oh! thou that art this day seeking a Saviour, remember, that Saviour's eyes are on thy seeking soul to-day. Thou art not looking after one who can not see thee; thou art coming to thy Father, but thy Father sees thee even in the distance. It was but one tear that trickled down thy cheek, but thy Father noticed that as a hopeful sign; it was but one throb that went through thy heart just now during the singing of the hymn, but God, the Loving, noticed even that, and thought upon it as at least some omen that thou wast not yet quite hardened by sin, nor yet given up by love and mercy.
I heard the moralist whilst I was questioning the Christian, say, "What have I done? Sir, I have done all I ought to have done. You may, as a Gospeller, stand there and talk to me about sins; but I tell you, Sir, I have done all that was my duty; I have always attended my church or chapel regularly every Sunday as ever a man or woman could; I have always read prayers in the family, and I always say prayers before I go to bed and when I get up in the morning. I don't know that I owe anybody anything, or that I have been unkind to anybody; I give a fair share to the poor, and I think if good works have any merit I certainly have done a great deal." Quite right, my friend, very right, indeed, if good works have any merit; but then it is very unfortunate that they have not any; for our good works, if we do them to save ourselves by them, are no better than our sins. You might as well hope to go to heaven by cursing and swearing, as by the merits of your own good works; for although good works are infinitely preferable to cursing and swearing in a moral point of view, yet there is no more merit in one than there is in the other, though there is less sin in one than in the other. Will you please to remember, then, that all you have been doing all these years is good for nothing? "Well, but, sir, I have trusted in Christ." Now, stop! Let me ask you a question. Do you mean to say, that you have trusted partly in Christ, and partly in your own good works? "Yes, sir." Well, then, let me tell you, the Lord Jesus Christ will never be a make weight; you must take Christ wholly, or else no Christ at all, for Christ will never go shares with you in the work of salvation. So, I repeat, all you have ever done is good for nothing. You have been building a card-house, and the tempest will blow it down; you have been building a house upon the sand, and when the rains descend and the floods come, the last vestige of it will be swept away forever. Hear ye the word of the Lord! "By the works of the law shall no flesh living be justified." "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them;" and in as much as you have not continued in all things that are written in the law you are transgressors of the law, and you are under the curse, and all that the law has to say to you is, "Cursed, cursed, cursed! Your morality is of no help to you whatever, as to eternal things."
I turn to another character. He says, "Well, I don't trust in my morality nor in anything else; I say,
I have nothing to do with talking about eternity, as you would have me. But, sir, I am not a bad fellow after all. It is a very little that I ever do amiss; now and then a peccadillo, just a little folly, but neither my country, nor my friends, nor my own conscience, can say anything against me. True, I am none of your saints; I don't profess to be too strict; I may go a little too far sometimes, but it is only a little; and I dare say we shall be able to set all matters straight before the end comes." Well, friend, but I wish you had asked yourself the question, "What have I done?"it strikes me that if each of you would just take off that film, that films your heart and your life over, you might see a grievous leprosy lurking behind what you have done. "Well, for the matter of that," says one, "perhaps I may have taken a glass or two too much sometimes." Stop a bit! What is the name of that? Stutter as much as you like! Out with it! What is the name of it? "Why, it is just a little mirth, sir." Stop, let us have the right name of it. What do you call it in any one else? "Drunkenness, I suppose." Says another, "I have been a little loose in my talk sometimes." What is that? "It has been just a merry spree." Yes, but please to call it what it ought to be calledlascivious conversation. Write that down. "Oh! no, sir; things are looking serious." Yes, they are indeed; but they do not look any more serious than they really are. Sometimes you have been out on the Sabbath day haven't you? "Oh! yes; but that has been only now and thenjust sometimes." Yes, but let us put it down what it is, and we will see what the list comes to. Sabbath-breaking! "Stop," you say, "I have gone no further, sir; certainly I have gone no further." I suppose in your conversation, sometimes during your life, you have quoted texts of Scripture to make jokes of them, haven't you? And sometimes you have cried out, when you have been a little surprised, "Lord, have mercy upon me, and such things. I don't venture to say you swear; though there is a Christian way of swearing that some people get into, and they think it is not quite swearing, but what it is besides nobody knows, and so we will put it down as swearingcursing and swearing. "Oh! sir, it was only when somebody trod on my toes, or I was angry." Never mind, put it down by its right name: we shall get a pretty good list against you by and by. I suppose that in trade you never adulterate your articles. "Well that is a matter of business in which you ought not to interfere." Well, it so happens I am going to interfereand if you please we will call it by its right namestealing. We will put that down. I suppose you have never been hard with a debtor, have you? You have never at any time wished that you were richer, and sometimes half wished that your opposite neighbor would lose part of his custom, so that you might have it? Well, we will call it by its right name: that is "covetousness, which is idolatry." Now, the list seems to be getting black indeed. Besides that, how have you spent all this year; and though you have pretended sometimes to say prayers, have you ever really prayed? No, you have not. Well, then there is prayerlessness to put down. You have sometimes read the Bible, you have sometimes listened to the ministry but have you not, after all, let all these things pass away? Then I want to know whether that is not despising God, and whether we must not put that down under that name. Truly we need go but very little further; for the list already when summed up is most fearful, and few of us can escape from sins so great as these, if our conscience be but a little awake.
But there is one man here who has grown very careless and indifferent to every point of morality, and he says, "Ah! young man, I could tell you what I have done during the year." Stop, sir, I don't particularly wish to know just now; you may as well tell it to yourself when you get home. There are young people here: it would not do them much good to know what you have done perhaps. You are no better than you should be, some people say; which means, you are so bad they would not like to say what you are. Do you suppose in all this congregation we have no debauched mennone that indulge in the vilest sin and lust? Why, God's angel seems even now to be flying through our midst, and touching the conscience of some, to let them know in what iniquities they have indulged during the year. I pray God that my just simply alluding to them may be the means of startling your conscience. Ah! ye may hide your sins; the coverlet of darkness may be your shelter; you may think they shall never be discovered; but remember, every sin that you have done shall be read before the sun, and men, and angels shall hear it in the day of final account. Ah! my hearer, be thou moral or be thou dissolute, I beseech thee, answer this question solemnly to-day: "What have I done?" It would be as well if you took a piece of paper when you went home, and just wrote down what you have done from last January to December; and if some of you do not get frightened at it I must say you have got pretty strong nerves, and are not likely to be frightened at much yet.
Now I specially address myself to the unconverted man and I would help him to answer this question in another point of view. "What have I done?" Ah! man, thou that livest in sin, thou that art a lover of pleasure more than a lover of God, what hast thou done? Dost thou not know that one sin is enough to damn a soul for ever? Hast thou never read in Holy Scripture that cursed is he that sins but once? How damned then, art thou by the myriad sins of this one year! Recall, I beseech thee, the sins of thy youth and thy former transgressions up till now; and if one sin would ruin thee for ever, how ruined art thou now! Why, man, one wave of sin may swamp thee. What will these oceans of thy guilt do? One witness against thee will be enough to condemn thee: behold the crowds of follies and of crimes now gathered round the judgment-seat that have gone before thee into judgment. How wilt thou escape from their testimonies, when God shall call thee to his bar. What hast thou done? Come, man, answer this question. There are many consequences involved in thy sin, and in order to answer this question rightly thou must reply to every consequence, what hast thou done to thine own soul? Why, thou hast destroyed it; thou hast done thy best to ruin it for ever. For thine own poor soul thou hast been digging dungeons; thou hast been piling faggots; thou hast been forging chains of ironfaggots with which to burn it, and fetters with which to bind it for ever.
Remember, thy sins are like sowing for a harvest. What a harvest is that which thou hast sown for thy poor soul! Thou hast sown the wind, thou shalt reap the whirlwind; thou hast sown iniquity, thou shalt reap damnation. But what hast thou done against the gospel? Remember, how many times this year thou hast heard it preached? Why, since thy birth there have been wagon-loads of sermons wasted on thee. Thy parents prayed for thee in thy youth; thy friends instructed thee till thou didst come to manhood. Since then how many a tear has been wept by the minister for thee! How many an earnest appeal has been shot into thine heart! But thou hast rent out the arrow. Ministers have been concerned to save thee, and thou cast never been concerned about thyself. What hast thou done against Christ? Remember, Christ has been a good Christ to sinners here; but as there is nothing that burns so well as that soft substance, oil, so there is nothing that will be so furious as that gentle-hearted Saviour, when he comes to be your Judge. Fiercer than a lion on his prey is rejected love. Despise Christ on the cross, and it will be a terrible thing to be judged by Christ on his throne.
But again: what have you done for your children this year? Oh! there be some here present that have been doing all they could to ruin their children's souls. 'Tis solemn what responsibility rests upon a father; and what shall be said of a drunken father?the father that sets his children an example of drunkenness. Swearer, what have you done for your family? Haven't you, too, been twisting the rope for their eternal destruction? Will they not be sure to do as you do? Mother, you have several children, but this year you have never prayed for one of them, never put your arms round their necks as they kneeled at their little chair at night, and said, "Our Father;" you have never told them of Jesus that loved children, and once became a child like them. Ah, then, you too have neglected your children. I remember a mother who was converted to God in her old age, and she said to meand I shall never forget the womanly grief"God has forgiven me, but I shall never forgive myself. For sir," she said, "I have nourished and brought up children but I have done it without any respect to religion." And then she burst into tears, and said, "I have been a cruel mother, sir; I have been a wretch!" "Why," said I, "my good woman, you have brought your children up." "Yes," said she, "my husband died when they were young, and left me with six of them, and these hands have earned their bread and found them clothes; no one," she said, "can accuse me of being unkind to them in anything but this; but this is the worst of all; I have been a cruel mother to them, for while I fed their bodies I neglected their souls. But some have gone further than this. Ah, young man, you have not only done your best this year to damn yourself, but you have done your best to damn others! Remember, last January, you took that young man into the tavern for the first time, and laughed at all his boyish scruples, as you called them, and told him to drink away, as you did. Remember, when in the darkness of night you first led astray one young man whose principles were virtuous, and who had not known lust unless you had revealed it to him; you said at the time, "Come with me; I'll show you London life, I'll let you see pleasure!" That young man, when he first came to your shop, used to go to the house of God on Sunday, and seemed to bid fair for heaven"Ah," you say, "I have laughed religion out of Jackson, he doesn't go any where on a Sunday now except for a spree, and he is just as merry as any of us." Ah! sir, and you will have two hells when you are damned; you will have your own hell and his too, for he will look through the lurid flames upon you, and say, "Mayhap, I had never been here if you had not brought me here!" And ah! seducer, what eyes will be those that will glare at you through hell's horror?The eyes of one whom you led into iniquity! what double hells they will be to you as they glare on you like two stars, whose light is fury, and wither your blood for ever! Pause, ye that have led others astray, and tremble now. I paused myself, and prayed to God when I first knew a Saviour, that he would help me to lead those to Christ that I had ever in any way led astray. And I remember George Whitfield says when he began to pray, his first prayer was that God would convert those with whom he used to play at cards and waste his Sundays. "And blessed be God," he says, "I got every one of them."
O my God, can I not detect in some face here astonishment and terror. Doth no man's knees knock together? Doth no man's heart quail within him because of his iniquity? Surely it cannot be so, else were your hearts turned to steel, and your bowels become as iron in the midst of you. Surely, if it be so, the words of God are most certainly true, wherein he saith, in the seventh verse of this chapter"The stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the Lord;" and certainly that prophet was true who said, "The ox knoweth its owner, and the ass his masters crib; but my people doth not know, Israel doth not consider." Oh, are ye so brutish as to let the reflections of that guilt pass over you without causing astonishment and terror? Then, surely we who feel our guilt have need to bend our knees for you, and pray that God might yet bring you to know yourselves; for, living and dying as you are, hardened and without hope, your lot must be horrible in the extreme.
How happy should I be if I might hope that the great mass of you could accompany me in this humble confession of our faith; may I speak as if I were speaking for each one of you? It shall be at your option, either to accept what I say, or to reject it; but, I trust, the great multitude of you will follow me. "Oh, Lord! I this morning confess that my sins are greater than I can bear; I have deserved thy hottest wrath, and thine infinite displeasure; and I hardly dare to hope that thou canst have mercy upon me; but inasmuch as thou didst give thy Son to die upon the cross for sinners, thou hast also said, 'Look unto me and be ye saved all the ends of the earth,' Lord, I look to thee this morning, though I never looked before, yet I look now; though I have been a slave of sin to this moment, yet Lord, accept me, sinner though I be, through the blood and righteousness of thy Son, Jesus Christ. Oh Father, frown not on me; thou mayest well do so, but I plead that promise which says, 'Whosoever cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out. Lord, I come
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bid'st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.
My faith doth lay its hand,
"Lord accept me, Lord pardon me, and take me as I am, from this time forth and for ever, to be thy servant whilst I live, to be thy redeemed when I die." Can you say that? Did not many a heart say it? Did I not hear many a lip in silence utter it? Be of good cheer, my brother, my sister, that if that came from your heart, you are as safe as the angels of heaven, for you are a child of God, and you shall never perish.
III. Now I have to address a few words of AFFECTIONATE ADMONITION, and then I have done. It is a very solemn thing to think how years roll away. I never spent a shorter year in my life than this one, and the older I grow, the shorter the years get; and you, old men, I dare say, look back on your sixty and seventy years, and you say, "Ah, young man, they will seem shorter, soon!" No doubt, they will. "So teach us to number our days, O God, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." But, is it not a solemn thing, that there is another year nearly gone; and yet many of you are unsaved? You are just where you were last year. No, you are not, you are nearer death, and you are nearer hell, except you repent; and, perhaps, even what I have said this morning will have no effect upon you. You are not altogether hardened, for you have had many serious impressions. Scores of times you have wept under discourses, and yet all has been in vain, for you are what you were. I beseech you, answer this question, "What have I done?" for, remember, there will be a time when you will ask this question, but it will be too late. When Is thatsay youon the death bed? No, it is not too late there.
The vilest sinner may return."
But it will be too late to ask, "What have I done?" when the breath has gone out of your body. Just suppose the monument as it used to be, before they caged it round. Suppose a man going up the winding staircase to the top, with a full determination to destroy himself. He has got on the outside of the railings. Can you imagine him for a moment saying, "What have I done?" just after he has taken his leap. Why, methinks some spirit in the air might whisper, "Done? you have done what you can never undo. You are lostlostlost!" Now, remember that you that have not Christ, are to-day going up that spiral stair-case; perhaps, to-morrow you will be standing in the article of death upon the palisading, and when death has gotten you, and you are just leaping from that monument of life down to the gulf of despair, that question will be full of horror to you. "What have you done?" But the answer for it will not be profitable, but full of terror. Methinks, I see a spirit launched upon the sea of eternity. I hear it say, "What have I done?" It is plunged in flaming waves, and cries, "What have I done?" It sees before it a long eternity; but it asks the question again, "What have I done?" The dread answer comes; thou hast earned all this for thyself. Thou knewest thy duty, but thou didst it not; Thou wast warned, but thou didst despise the warning. Ah! hear the doleful soliloquy of such a spirit. The last great day is come; the flaming throne is set, and the great book is opened. I hear the leaves as with terrible rustle they are turned over. I see men motioned to the right or to the left, according to the result of that great book. And what have I done? I know that to me sin will be destruction, for I have never sought a Saviour. What is that? The Judge has fixed his eye on me. Now, it is on me turned. Will he say, "Depart ye cursed," unto me? Oh! let me be crushed for ever, rather than bear that sight. There is no noise, but the finger is lifted, and I am dragged out of the crowd, and singly I stand before the Judge. He turns to my page, and before he reads it, my heart quakes within me. "Be it so," says he, "it has never been blotted with my blood. You despised my calls; you laughed at my people; you would have none of my mercy; you said that you would take the wages of unrighteousness. You shall have them, the wages of sin is death." Ah! me, and is he about to say, "Depart, ye cursed?" Yes, with a voice louder than a thousand thunders, he says, "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Ah! it is all true now. I laughed at the minister, because he preached about hell; and here am I in hell, myself. Ah! I used to wonder why he wanted to frighten us so. Ah! I would to God he had frightened me more, if he might but have frightened me out of this place. But now, here am I lost, and there is no escape. I am in darkness so dark, there is not a ray of light can ever reach me. I am shut up so close, that not one of the bolts and bars can ever be removed. I am damned for ever. Ah! that is a dreary soliloquy. I cannot tell it to you. Oh! if you were there, yourselves, if you could only know what they feel, and see what they endure, then would you wonder that I am not more earnest in preaching the Gospels and you would marvel, not that I wish to make you weep, but that I did not weep far more myself, and preach more solemnly. Ah! my hearers, as the Lord my God liveth, before whom I stand, I shall one day stand acknowledged by our conscience as having been a true witness unto you this morning; for there is not one of you here today, but will be without excuse, if you perish. You have been warned, I have warned you as earnestly as I can. I have no more powers to spend, no more arts to try, no more persuasion that I can use. I can only conclude by saying, I beseech you, fly to Jesus. I entreat you, as immortal spirits that are bound for endless weal or woe, fly ye to Christ; seek for mercy at his hands; trust in him, and be saved; and, at your peril, reject my solemn warning. Remember, ye may reject it, but ye reject not me, but him that sent me. Ye may despise it, but ye despise not me, but a greater than Moses, even Jesus Christ the Lord; and when ye come before his bar, piercing will be his language, and terrible his words, when he condemns you for ever, for ever, for ever, without hope, for ever, for ever, for ever. May God deliver us from that, for Jesus' sake. Amen.