A Sight of Self
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.”— Isaiah 64:6-8
IT is easy to commit sin, but hard to confess it. Man will transgress without a tempter; but even when urged by the most earnest pleader, he will not acknowledge his guilt. If we could but bring men into such a state of heart that they felt themselves to be guilty, there would be hope for them; but this is one of the most hopeless signs concerning our race, that it is so hardened and so perverse, that even when sin stares it in the face, it still pleads innocence, and proudly lifts up its head and challenges the accuser. Transgressors always seek to escape from the painful and humiliating duty of acknowledging their offences. Some seek to hide it both from themselves and others, silencing their own conscience, and throwing dust in the eyes of their companions; like Achan, digging in the earth to hide the Babylonish garment and the wedge of gold, they forget that their sin will surely find them out. As the foolish ostrich, when pursued by the hunters, buries its head in the sand, and when it cannot see its enemy, thinks it has escaped; so these men take the fact that they are undiscovered by men, and are at peace with themselves, as a good omen, whereas it is a sad sign of hardness and blindness of heart. Many pursue another course, and make excuses for their offences. They did do wrong, it is true, but then there is much to be said in extenuation; like Aaron, they urge the clamours of the people, or they will have it that even Providence itself compelled them to sin. “I cast gold into the fire, and there came out this calf,” as if sin were an accident, and not a wilful wickedness; as if disobedience to God were a sort of necessity of nature, and not a direct rebellion of the will against the Majesty of heaven. Others, too, will throw their sin on their fellows — a trick which they learned of our first parents, for Adam, in the garden, said— “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat;” or they may have learned it of our mother Eve, for even she understood this stratagem— “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” So they will have it that they were dragged into sin by force; that they were over-persuaded or craftily enticed, so that they ought not to be considered as accomplices in the crime— that they are, in fact, only the instruments of others' sins, and could hardly resist, so that others must take the whole of the guilt, and they themselves go scot free. Some who have attained to a higher pitch of brazen impudence, will actually deny altogether that they have sinned; will come before God's servant as Ananias did before Peter, and say, “Yea, for so much,” while yet they are holding a lie in their right hand. We have some who will stoutly say, “We have not sinned,” and who think themselves insulted if in plain terms you accuse them of having violated the law of God. There are some also, and those not a few, who endeavour to colour their sins, and to cloak them with a profession of godliness, by attending to the ceremonies of religion with ostentatious carefulness. Like the Pharisees of old, they devour widows’ houses, but they make long prayers. They hate Christ in their hearts, but they tithe mint, and anise, and cummin; they violate the precepts of the law, but they bind it on their foreheads, wear long fringes on their garments, and write texts of Scripture on the door-posts of their houses. These serve at the altar of the devil, in the garb of God's priests, and offer unclean flesh upon the high places, in pretended honour of the God of Israel. We know that all these classes abound everywhere, tor a man will do anything to hide sin from himself; and he will give skin for skin, yea, all that he hath that he may be self-justified, that he may have somewhat to answer when he stands before the Most High, that he may find food for his pride, and a coverlet for the infamous arrogance of his heart. He will dig, and labour, and strive, give his goods to the poor, and his body to be burned, that he may win a righteousness of his own. Beloved, if you and I have ever been partakers of the grace of God, we have been brought to the distasteful duty of confession of sin, for it is not possible that we have been pardoned if we have refused to acknowledge our guilt. We cannot be partakers of the life of God in the soul if still we can say, “ Lord, I am righteous, and of myself I can plead exemption from thy curse.” A clear sense of our lost estate is absolutely necessary to make us even seek for pardon. As the man who thinks himself in good health will never send for a physician, as the man who is sufficiently warm will not avail himself of an extra garment which is proffered to him, as the man who is not hungry will not accept an invitation to a feast of charity, so we find that none will come to Christ but those who feel that they must come, and that out of him they are utterly lost, ruined, and undone. Moreover, as none will seek the mercy till they know their need, so we may rest assured that none would value that mercy even if it were given to them before their spiritual poverty had become manifest. What is medicine to the healthy man? Send it to his door, and what thanks will you receive? You have been guilty of an impertinence. Why offer charity to the man who is rich and increased in goods? Will he receive your dole? Will he not turn up his heel and tell you to find out the beggar in the street, but not to mistake him for one who needs your alms? Even, I say, should God give salvation to those who feel no need of it, they would not value the priceless boon. This diamond of God would be to them but a piece of valueless broken glass; this gem from heaven but as a pebble from the brook.
“ What comfort can a Saviour bring
To those who never felt their woe ?
A sinner is a sacred thing ;
The Holy Ghost has made him so.”
It is certain that God will never give pardon to those who do not confess their need of it, for it is not consistent with the sovereignty and dignity of God that he should present pardon to the man who will not first honour God's law by pleading that he is guilty. If a man shall still say, “I have not broken the law,” is God unmerciful if he refuse to forgive him? Dost thou harden thy brow like iron, and thy heart as adamant, and wilt thou accuse God of want of love, if he say, “I will send no mercy to that man, neither shall he find pardon at my hands, ‘but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word?’” Is it any wonder, I ask you, that he should pass by the proud and the self-righteous and leave them unblest? By their own profession they do not want his mercy; they declare they do not need to be forgiven. Then perish! Perish! for ye righteously deserve it. Go down to the hell which ye have chosen by your pride, and reap the fruits of your own wilfulness, but impugn not the tenderness of God, if he adhere to this inviolable rule, that if we will not confess our sins we shall perish in our guilt;
“ For Christ as soon would abdicate his own,
As stoop from heaven to sell the proud a throne.”
This morning it is my intention, as God shall help me, to describe that view which every gracious soul is sure to have of himself; then, secondly, to warn you of certain dangers to which those are exposed who only know their need, but who have not yet found Christ; and I hope to close with the pleas — some of which are in the text, some to be found elsewhere — which every soul that is conscious of guilt may urge before the throne of mercy.
I. First, then, I HAVE TO DESCRIBE THE VIEW WHICH EVERY TRULY GRACIOUS SOUL WILL TAKE OF HIMSELF, and as I describe it, I hope there are some here who will say, “That is what I think of myself, that is my condition before God.” Though you should think yours to be a hopeless case, yet I pray you rest assured that it is not so, if you can join in the confession through which I am now about briefly to pass. I feel persuaded that it is the Spirit of God which has brought you to a deep sense of your lost estate, and has thus begun a good work in your soul.
1. Every gracious soul who is truly enlightened by the Spirit, has a clear sense of the root of all his guiltiness. He knows the plague of his own heart, and cries with the text, “We are all as an unclean thing.” He discovers that not merely his outward acts, but that his very person is essentially sinful in the sight of God. He was willing to confess once that the streams were black, but now he perceives to his horror that the fountain itself is defiled. You could have made him aforetime confess that the fruits of his boughs were bitter, but now he perceives that the root is corrupt, the tree is evil, the very sap is poisonous. lie is brought to feel now that sinfulness lieth in the very marrow of his bones and is inherent in his blood; that he himself — as well as his thoughts and his acts — he himself is “as an unclean thing.” The metaphor that is here used is hardly understood by us, because it is drawn from the levitical and ceremonial use of the word “unclean.” Under the Jewish law you know that when a person was unclean he could not go up to the house of the Lord. He could offer no sacrifice; God could accept nothing at his hands; he was an outcast and an alien so long as he remained unclean. If he sat upon a bed it must be washed with water; if he touched a vessel of earth it must be broken, for it was unclean; if he ate any food, the whole of that food was unclean, and no clean person might venture to touch it. When this uncleanness was connected with disease, as in the case of leprosy, the man became loathsome— so utterly loathsome to himself that it must have been a horror to have lived; so loathsome to his fellow creatures that his only appropriate spot was Solitude, where alone, far from any water brook of which human lip might drink, alone so that the air might not be contaminated with his disease, alone he lived and cried, “Unclean! unclean! unclean!” Every gracious soul knows itself to be by nature as an unclean thing. He feels that of himself he cannot worship God acceptably; that he cannot stand within the veil on his own merits; that he can bring no sacrifice which God can accept; that he is the means of injury to others; that his ill example leads others astray; and that, in fact, he is not fit to stand in the congregation of the righteous, nor to be numbered with God's chosen, for he is in himself polluted and polluting. When a sense of his horrible depravity and degredation is heavy upon him, before he has found Christ, that man will slink into the house of God like a felon, and hide himself away; or, if he sits down with God’s people, it is with the idea that he is out of place like a filthy beggar in a palace, or a loathsome reptile in a hallowed temple. Often he feels, when a Christian speaks to him, as if he were not fit to give an answer; he feels himself to be in person, utterly unfit to live. Ah, well do I remember the period when first I discovered this truth; and how did I wish, as John Bunyan did, that I had been anything but a man, — a toad, or a serpent, sooner than have been a man, a creature that had offended its own Maker, a creature in itself so prone to go astray, so sure to sin if left alone. In “Grace Abounding,” Bunyan says, “My original and inward pollution, that, that was my plague and affliction; that, I say, at a dreadful rate, always putting forth itself within me; that I had the guilt of, to amazement; by reason of that, I was more loathsome in my own eyes than was a toad; and I thought I was so in God’s eyes too; sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart, as water would bubble out of a fountain. I thought now that every one had a better heart than I had; I could have changed heart with anybody; I thought none but the devil himself could equalize me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind. I fell, therefore, at the sight of my own vileness, deeply into despair; for I concluded that this condition that I was in could not stand with a state of grace.” Oh, there was no talk of human dignity then! There are still some few of your fine preachers who will have it that there is a deal of dignity in human nature— that man is a noble creature. Alas! brethren, he that talks about the dignity of nature, and the nobility of fallen man, does not know himself. So far from being fit for the pulpit, he ought to begin to learn his catechism. He cannot speak of a state of grace, for he has not yet learned aright his own state by nature! He must be a blind leader of the blind who can talk like this; he does not know the first work of the Spirit in his own soul, or else he would feel that we are just the reverse of anything that is noble or good, for “we are all as an unclean thing.” The whole man is vile and desperately evil, there is not one sound spot left within or without. The sin is white on our very forehead, but its core lies deep within; the heart is deceitful; the passions are corrupt; the understanding is eaten through and through with a deadly leprosy; and in us, that is, in our own flesh, there dwelleth no good thing.
“ Lord, when thy spirit deigns to show
The badness of our hearts,
Astonished at the amazing view,
The soul with horror starts.
The dungeon op'ning, foul as hell,
Its loathsome stench emits ;
And, brooding in each secret cell,
Some hideous monster sits.
Swarms of ill thoughts their bane diffuse,
Proud, envious, false, unclean ;
And ev'ryy ransack'd corner shows
Some unsuspected sin.”
2. But in the second place, the spiritually enlightened man— and we insist upon it that none else are spiritually enlightened— the spiritually enlightened man then perceives that all his actions are evil. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Our righteousnesses; it does not say our unrighteousnesses. Brethren, if our righteousnesses are so bad, what must our unrighteousnesses be? Our “righteousnesses,” that is our prayers, our tears, our good deeds, those things whereof we once gloried, when we are really taught of God we perceive that these are filthy rags. The expression, “filthy rags,” in the Hebrew, is one which we could not with propriety explain in the present assembly. As the confession must be made privately and alone before God, so the full meaning of the comparison is not meant for human ear. Suffice it to say that rags which have bound up a foul, putrid, running sore, are understood by some commentators, and our righteousnesses are comparable to such rags as these. Oh tell me not that we exaggerate when we describe the fall of man! O sirs! say not that we love to depreciate our race, and that we slander that noble creature, man. All those things which you call exaggerations fall below the mark – even below the mark of what some of us have felt concerning ourselves, and that is very far from what God knows of our state. Sirs, there is sin in our prayers; they need to be prayed over again. There is filth in the very tears that we shed in penitence; there is sin in our very holiness; there is unbelief in our faith; there is hatred in our very love; there is the slime of the serpent upon the fairest flower of our garden. I know time was, in looking back upon my past life— and it had been moral and without exception to the eyes of others— yet I loathed myself that ever I should have lived such an unworthy life; and indeed at the present I can do but little otherwise, for “in me (that is in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.” I am sure when the soul is convinced of sin it will look upon self-righteousness as the most detestable lie that ever was forged by hell, and it will regard all self-confidence as the most frightful delusion and deception into which the soul can fall. Trust in our doings, brethren? — we have no doings to trust to. If our best works are bad, and so bad that they are as filthy rags, what must our bad works be? Oh, I would have some of you remember your bad works this morning that you may repent of them. You remember how the apostle speaks of “fornicators, adulterers, thieves, covetous, drunkards,” and he says, “such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified.” There is no wisdom in daintily handling men's sins. There are vices in London as much as in Corinth, and we have in our churches those who once indulged in them; and in this congregation this morning we may have some who live in them still. O God, show them their sin; let them feel their guilt before thee; and let us all, as we shall do, if the spirit of God be in our hearts, confess that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.
3. In the next place, the enlightened heart into which the candle of the Lord hath shone, is led to see the failure and futility of all its resolutions to be better. “We all do fade as a leaf.” Some of you have been lately awakened, you have felt yourselves to be lost souls; and what have you been doing? Why, you have promised to be better, and you have tried to be; you have mended in various ways, or, rather, you have proposed to yourselves to amend. Perhaps you made up your mind that you would never go out to your labour again without prayer— that you would never lose your temper— that when tempted to indulge your passions you would restrain them— that those things which had been your besetting sins should now be given up. What progress have you made with your resolution? Are you not to-day like the man who resolved and re-resolved, but remained the same? Truly in our own strength, we all do fade as a leaf. We look fair and green in the morning when we rise from our beds, fresh with midnight vows and repentings, but before night we are as faded and withered as the dry sere leaf withered with autumnal blasts. We went forth, saying, “To-day I shall stand: this time I shall not fall: now I am safe: I have made up my mind: I am resolved: I know there is a something in me which can improve, I can be better if I like: I will reform: I will stand up and make myself a Christian.” But what became of it all? Down it went, and “like the baseless fabric of a vision, left not a wreck behind.” You returned “like a dog to his vomit, or the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” How many slips men make before they learn to put themselves into God’s arms to be carried by him! It seems as if we must try fifty times before we will learn that simple truth, — “Without me ye can do nothing.” We run about over the treacherous sea beach looking out a spot of sand just a little harder than the last; and we compliment ourselves that we have hit upon a much more solid site for our new and noble house. “All! that was a mistake last time: that was a poor bit of sand to build on: this time it is all right. See how hard it is! the tide does not come here often: see it does not yield, it is like a bowling green, smooth and hard '. I will build here.” The timbers are laid, the goodly stones are squared, and the house uprises. But, hark! what is that? The breakers are coming up; the tide certainly does reach this very spot. It is a full spring tide that is now marching up the shore, and lo! the materials are engulfed in the all-devouring deep; our tower has tottered and great is the fall thereof. What will disappointed man do now, sirs? Why he will look out another bit of sand, and so he will go on unless the grace of God prevent; but when grace comes he will give up all the sand at once, and begin to build upon the rock, and upon the rock alone. I would have you reform as much as you can; but do not mix your reformation with religion, for you need regeneration, and reformation will not suffice. No touching up of the old house will suffice, down with it, down with it, for the very foundation is rotten. It is not mending your clothes; it is throwing them away, and wearing the new robes of righteousness that will fit you for the leasts of glory. We want no Gibeonitish “old shoes and clouted;” ye must have shoes of iron and brass, for those are the only ones that can carry you to heaven. Ye may scrub the negro; it is good even for negroes to be cleansed, but that is not the way to make him white. Ye may use your brush, and your nitre, and your soap; but if ye would enter heaven ye must go to God and ask him to make the Ethiopian anew, for none of these things can make him white before God. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags: we all do fade as a leaf.” Our best professions, hopes, resolutions, and pretensions— all of them fade like shadows, dreams, and fancies of the brain.
4. But the truly awakened soul knows a fourth thing, namely, that he is not in himself able to stand against the invasions of temptation, for the text has put it— “Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” There is a sere-leaf hanging alone on that tree; all its companions have long ago fallen and are gone. Sere-leaf, thou wilt not long hold thy place, for thou dependest for thy connexion with the tree upon a very slender thread. Hark! the north-wind howls; now shall all the trees be clear. Where is the sere-leaf now? Hurried away to join the rotting heap upon the ground. So, when men find that their vows wither, yet they will still hang to their hopes, and to their moralities; but some strong temptation comes unexpectedly upon them just at the moment when their mind is susceptible of its power, and where are they? The devil catches their tinder dry and then strikes the spark. He knows how to time his temptations; he does not assail his victims when they are ready to resist him, but waylays them in the dark corner of some cut-throat lane, and smites the unguarded passenger with a deadly blow. The thief never lets you know when he intends to break in, for “if the good man of the house had known in what hour the thief would come, he would have watched,and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.” The temptation comes like a howling north wind at an unexpected moment, and where is your man now? Unable to resist, carried away by the very vice which he thought he had renounced. “Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Every Christian man here knows this. He knows that the grace of God is stronger than all the winds of temptation, but he knows also that apart from that, he can no more resist sin than the chaff from the hand of the winnower can stand against the blast of a hurricane. He feels that if he be put into the furnace he can abide the fire through grace, but that apart from grace he is as tow before the flame or like wax before the fire. The well-instructed believer is very much afraid of himself; he dares not go into temptation, for he feels that a man who carries a bombshell within him ought to mind that he keeps away from the sparks, and that he who has a powder-magazine in his heart ought not to play with fire. He knows that in himself considered, apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, he would as certainly go back to his old sins, and fall again into his past lusts, as do those who crucify the Lord afresh, and put him to an open shame. Ah, my hearer, if you do not know this, I am afraid you do not know yourself, and if you do not know yourself you do not know Christ. We must traverse the stripping-room before we can enter into the robing-room. Pull that bracelet from the man's wrist; off with that crown; strip him of the purple robe; away with those sandels; tear up that cloak. Leave him naked. He is never fit to be clothed till he is naked. Let his foul skin be seen, for he cannot be washed till he can see his filth. How set his feet upon the rock, but first of all pull his feet from the sand, for as long as they have any foot-hold anywhere else, they cannot stand upon the rock of ages safely and securely. I hope that very many of you do know that your iniquities, like the wind, will carry you away, unless you have the grace of God.
5. Those souls upon whom God’s sunlight has once shone are also painfully aware of their own natural weakness and slothfulness in 'prayer. What saith the text? “There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee.” In my carnal state I used to hear a minister whose preaching was, as far as I could make it out, “Do this, and do that, and do the other, and you will be saved.” According to his theory, to pray was a very easy thing; to make yourself a new heart was a thing of a few instants and could be done at almost any time, and I really thought that I could turn to Christ when I pleased, and that therefore I could put it off to the last part of my life when it might be conveniently done upon a sick bed. But when the Lord gave my soul its first shakings in conviction, I soon knew better. I went to pray; I did pray, God knoweth, but it seemed to me that I did not. What, I approach the throne! Such a wretch as I lay hold on the promise! I venture to hope that God could look on me! It seemed impossible. A tear, a groan, and sometimes not so much as that, and that was all. An “Ah!” a “Would that,” a “But,”— the lip could not utter more. It was prayer, but it did not seem so then. Oh! how hard is prevailing prayer to a poor God, provoking sinner! Where was the power to lay hold on God’s strength or wrestle with the angel? Certainly not in me, for I was weak as water, and sometimes hard as the nether millstone. Every believer feels at times a fearful inability in prayer; he goes to the throne of grace, and groans, and comes forth from his closet no more refreshed than a man who rises from his bed after having tossed to and fro all night. He knows what it is to pray, but he cannot perform the duty. He knows there is a power in prayer, but he cannot get the power. The chariot-wheels are knocked off, and he drags heavily along where once his soul was like the chariot of Aminadib. Well, I think we do not know ourselves unless we have been led to see that God must draw nigh to us, or else we cannot draw nigh to him, and unless we have been led to loathe ourselves, because of this indifference in prayer, we have not yet discovered what we are. Oh! to think that we cannot pray! This is not an inability for which we deserve to be comforted, but a damnable inability. This is one of the greatest sins we have, that we cannot approach our Maker. It is an awful and terrific thing that we should have become so wicked and so vile, that we cannot even ask for mercy, and cry for it aright. This is no excuse , but an aggravation of our guilt. Have you felt this, my hearer? Oh! if thou hast not, I fear thou hast to begin again, and learn the first elements of faith.
6. Lastly on this point, that soul which has once perceived itself in the black colours of its iniquity, has discovered that through sin it has lost all the favour and the love of God which might have come if it had been without sin, for so saith the text, “For thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us because of our iniquities.” It is no thing to play with— that hiding of God's face. When the prophet says, “Thou hast consumed us,” it is a dreadful word. Do you see that burning fiery furnace? The soldiers of Nebuchadnezzar are about to cast three men bound into it, that they may: be consumed, and the fire is exceeding hot, so that it may consume them quick. To the apprehension of an awakened sinner that is his fate; he feels that he must be cast into hell and be utterly consumed. Nay, more, with some, though not with all to the same degree, the man is consumed; some of us feel as if our locks were crisp even now with that awful burning through which we passed when we were first convinced of sin. Bunyan seems to have enjoyed the full light of God's countenance all the more because of his distinct recollection of the solemn period of conviction through which he passed. If you read Hart's hymns, you will be struck with their singular clearness concerning Christ and full justification. That certainty and assurance results very much from the fact that Hart retained to his dying day, the remembrance of his experience when he was under the whip of the law. You will remember that when he is trying to describe his own feelings, he fails to do so, and he adds: —
"Oh ! what a dismal state was this !
What horrors shook my feeble frame.
But, brethren, surely you can guess,
For you, perhaps, have felt the same."
Now, I do not think that all who know the Lord suffer this consumption to the same extent; but there must be in your heart, if ever you are saved at all, there must be heard a voice putting down every hope but Christ's; casting down every thought but that which looks to him. You must have seen the death-warrant condemning your excuses, your false trusts, your proud boastings and gloryings to an ignominious execution, or surely you know not the Lord; and if you have not thus known and felt that God is angry with the wicked every day, and that you in yourself are the object of his wrath, I fear you have not yet been quickened of the Spirit. But I know there are many such here; multitudes who have passed through this, and who take this view of themselves to-day, and others who are now suffering under it. The Lord bring us all to Christ and to his finished work!
II. I come now to the second part of my subject, which I shall dismiss with two or three words only. My dear friends, as I have been speaking I have seen you lean forward to catch every word, for you have said, “Ah, that is me,” and “That is me,” and “That is me; he reads my heart in the description.” Well, now, there is a danger I must warn you of, and that is— DO NOT BE CONTENT WITH THE MERE KNOWLEDGE THAT IT is so. You must not merely know that you are lost, but you must feel it. Do not be content with simply feeling that it is so, but mourn before God that it is so, and hate yourself that it is so. Do not look upon it as being a misfortune, but as being your own wilful sin, and look upon yourselves, therefore, as being guilty sinners, condemned already, not only for all this, but condemned because you believe not on Christ, for that after all is the crowning condemnation. And when you really feel your sinfulness, and mourn it, do not stop here; never give yourself any rest till you know that you are delivered from it, for it is one thing to say— “Ah, I do sin,” but it is quite another thing to say— “He has saved me from my sin.” It is one thing to have a repentance which makes you leave the sin you loved before, and another thing to talk about repentance. Ah! I have sometimes seen a child of God when he has sinned, and I have seen his broken-hearted actions, and heard his piteous confessions, and I can say that my heart goes out toward the man in whom there are tears of repentance of the right kind. It is one of the fairest sights that is seen under heaven when a believer who has gone wrong is willing to say, “I have sinned,” and when he no more sets himself proudly up against his God, but humbles himself like a little child. Such a man as that shall be exalted. But I have seen, and it is a fearful sight to see, I have seen one who can sin and repent, and sin and repent. Oh! that dry-eyed repentence is a damnable repentance! Take ye heed of it, brethren. I have known a man who professed to have been converted years and years ago, who, ever since that pretended conversion, has lived in a known sin, and yet he thinks he is a child of God because after he has fallen into the sin he has a little season of darkness arising from his conscience, but he quiets that conscience after a time, and presumptuously says, “I will not give up my hope.” Oh, that is an awful thing! God deliver you from dry-eyed repentance, for it is no repentence! God save you from that! I pray you, my dear hearers, while I describe these things, do not be saying, “There is my comfort, because I feel it.” That is no comfort; there is no ground for comfort there. It would be just as if when the doctor walked through the hospital and stopped before a bed and said, “A man who has a fever, or a man who has a cancer, feels so and so, and so and so,” a man should say, “Why that is just what I feel,” is there any comfort in that? The only comfort is that he knows he has a fever. "A man that has the typhus and must die unless a miracle is wrought, feels so and so.” “That is how I feel.” Is there any comfort in that? Nay, only the comfort to know that you will die. There is no comfort to be had from a sense of our depravity; the comfort is to be had in getting that which is to cure the depravity. The comfort is not to be found in the disease. We are not to go raking the stinking puddle of our own lusts to find sweet waters there. What! scrape the foul dunghill of our own corruptions to find something there that is to give us hope? God forbid! It is in the remedy, not in the disease; it is in Christ, and not in our sense or guilt that we are to find peace. I pray you, my dear hearers, never be satisfied till you find Christ who saves his people from their sins.
"O! beware of fondly thinking
God accepts thee for thy tears ;
Are the shipwreck'd saved by sinking ?
Can the ruin'd rise by fears ?”
III. And now, lastly, though our second head deserves a sermon, THE TEXT SEEMS TO SUGGEST SOME PLEAS. We will use them very briefly, but passionately.
Poor troubled soul, hast thou been able to go with me in the confession, and canst thou say, “Lord, I would be made whole; I would be saved from all my sins; I desire to be made holy and to be accepted in Christ?” Then there are many pleas thou canst use. I am afraid thou canst not use the first one mentioned in the text — “Thou art my Father!” I am half afraid you have not faith enough for that, but oh! if you have, what a prevailing plea it is! “My Father, I have sinned, but I am thy son, though not worthy to be so called; my Father, by a father's love forgive, forgive thine erring one; by the bowels of thy compassion have mercy upon me!” You who have backslidden can plead this, for you know your adoption. You feel the “Abba Father” on your lip now. Plead it. Would you, being evil, refuse to forgive your child? Would you not take him up in your arms and say, “My child, I cannot bear to see you weep; your tears make my heart bleed?” Would you not give him a kiss and say, “Go, and sin no more?”
But if that should be too hard for you, take the next plea. Say, “Lord, I am the clay and thou the potter; I am helpless like the clay which cannot fashion itself; I am worthless, Lord, like the clay that is of no value; I am filthy, Lord, like clay, I am only worthy to be trodden under foot, but thou art the potter, and potters can make fine things even of clay, vessels of honour out of dishonourable earth. Here I am, Lord; I put myself into thy hand. I am nothing; make me what thou wouldst have me to be; come, Lord, and make me, mould me, and fashion me. I confess I have no power; I acknowledge that I have no merit. O God, have mercy upon me; I will be the clay, be thou the potter! Make me to be thy workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works.” Will not that plea suffice? Soul, use it and try its prevalence!
But hark thee, sinner. There is a sweeter plea than any in the verse before us, for this is an Old Testament text; but I must take thee to the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for the plea that never fails. It is this, “Lord, it is written that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; if there was never a sinner in the world but one, that sinner I am. If thou writest it in capital letters I will wear it on my brow, for ‘I the chief of sinners am;’ I am a sinner not only generally but particularly, for I have broken this law, and that law, and I have gone astray always. But Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost, and thou hast said, ‘This is a faithful saying,’— It is, Lord, and therefore I believe it; and thou hast added— ‘It is worthy of all acceptation,’ therefore, good Lord, I accept it. I believe that Jesus came to save sinners. I trust myself in his hands to save me.” It is done, it is done. You are saved, you are saved; your sins are gone; your unrighteousnesses are forgiven; you are accepted in the beloved. What makes this plan so hard? Brethren, it is hard because it is so easy. If it were a hard way of salvation, man would like it; but because it is so easy we cannot bear it. We are so proud, that to be saved on charity; to come to Christ and trust him to save us; to have done with saving ourselves, and to let him do it all— Oh, this is so humbling. It will just suit you then, poor soul, for you have said in the words of my text, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Come thou before God and say, “Lord, by his agony and bloody sweat, by his cross and passion, by his precious death and burial, have mercy upon me,” and he will answer thee when thou makest mention of the blood, and he will say— “Thy sins which are many are forgiven thee.” Oh! there is hope yet, lost soul; there is hope yet! To the very gates of hell let my voice ring this moming— lost soul, there is hope yet. If thou hast passed those gates there is no hope; but this side the gate of hell there is hope for thee. Not in thyself but in Jesus is thy help found. Look to him; he dies; one look will save you. Look to him; he lives; he pleads before the Father’s throne. Faith in the living Saviour will make you a living soul. May God in his mercy empty you of self, and then faith is easy, but until you are brought there, faith is impossible. May you be brought to know that you are utterly lost, and then when I pronounce the words of Christ— “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,”— thou wilt joyfully obey the divine commandment, and thou wilt find in Christ all that thy needy spirit wants. I ask the prayers of the Church very earnestly that God may bless the testimony of this morning to the fetching in of many. “Brethren, pray for us.” Do mot cease your prayers. Oh! that we may have an ingathering to the Church again as we have had so many times, and unto him, even to him shall be the honour for ever! Amen.