Debtors and Debtors
“There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.” — Luke vii. 41.
September 13th, 1883
I TRUST that the Lord has “somewhat to say” upon this subject to some who are like Simon the Pharisee; and if he has, I trust that those persons will be led by the grace of God to say, as Simon did, “Master, say on.” Be ready to hear what the Lord Jesus Christ will speak to you. There are some who cover up the windows of their hearts with the shutters of prejudice; they are only prepared to hear what will please them; but they cannot endure to listen to that which will grieve them, and humble them. How many there are who want the preacher to prophesy smooth things! If he will say what they can agree with, they will go away, and sing his praises, which is a poor result in any case. But let us be of a nobler sort than that; let us be like the Bereans, who, after they had heard Paul and Silas preach, “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed.” Let us say, as Eli bade young Samuel do, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” Let us say to him, “Even if thou speakest that which will lay me in the dust, I will hear it. If thou sayest that which will condemn me to hell, I will give heed to it; for it is best for me to know the truth, that, by knowing it, I may be stirred up to flee from the wrath to come. Let me know the worst of my case, O Lord God of truth! ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’”
So far, I think, Simon the Pharisee may be an example to us. The Master said to him, “Simon, I have somewhat to1 say unto thee,” and his answer was, “Master, say on.”
I am not going to expound the whole parable at this time; may, perhaps, go on with it on another occasion, take only this one verse: “There was a certain creditor which had much as to lay down his life for them, was the one who spoke again and again of the place “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Many such words fell from those loving lips that never would have invented an unnecessary terror, so we may be sure that the penalty of sin is a very terrible one. Every one of us, who is out of Christ, is under the death penalty: “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God;” “the soul that sinneth, it shall die and what that death involves, — what that existence must be which is but life in the midst of death, the life of an immortal being that is stripped of all possibility of well-being for ever, — I will not attempt to describe. But that is the penalty of sin, and that is due to God, to whom we thus are debtors indeed.
And, my dear friends, it gives me great joy to add that, if we are pardoned sinners, we owe to God a deep debt of gratitude. If, through the blessed processes of grace, through the atoning sacrifice and mediation of our Divine Redeemer, we are delivered from the debt of sin, and the handwriting that was against us is taken away, and nailed to his cross; if, through the death of Christ, we are delivered from the death penalty of sin, — as we certainly are, for Christ has for ever cleared all believers by bearing their punishment in his own body on the tree, then are we debtors to the infinite love and boundless compassion of our covenant-keeping God, his well-beloved Son, and the ever-blessed Spirit. In this debt, let us be willing continually to sink deeper and deeper. I would that, in this respect, my own soul were like a ship that had foundered at sea, — and the sea should be the love of God; — and I would go down into it over the masthead till I was completely submerged in the abyss of infinite love. And, in truth, that is just where we are if we are in Christ Jesus; and each one of us, slightly altering the poet’s words, can say, —
“O love! thou bottomless abyss!
My soul is swallowed up in thee.”
Which of us can ever fully tell what we owe to God for our election, our redemption, our effectual calling, our justification, our sanctification, and our promised glorification? Who can tell how much we owe for being preserved from sin, for being restored after we have fallen into sin, and for being enabled by grace to rise above sin? Who can tell how great is our debt for all the blessings laid up in store for us, which we shall enjoy by-and-by, but which are just as surely ours before we receive them, — that grace we have not tasted yet, and that glory which we have scarcely dreamt of yet, — that infinite felicity which is hidden in the closed hand of God until the day shall come when he shall manifest it to our wondering eyes? “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh;” — but debtors to the covenant love of God; and, therefore, debtors to our fellow-men, realizing our obligation to show to them, according to our ability, the great love of God, and to testify to them concerning the way of eternal life.
So, you see, in some form or other, we are all debtors. I am notabout to speak of that last kind of debt now, for it is not included in our Saviour’s parable; but I want to speak of the debt of obedience which has not been rendered, and the debt of penalty which has been incurred in consequence of our disobedience. I intend, as God shall help me, to say something about debtors; and if, in the use of the illustration, I should seem to utter hard words about people who are in debt, I am not meaning to do that, and I hope they will not take it so. I am simply intending to use the illustration. If it happens to hit anybody, I cannot help that. If the cap fits anyone, let him wear it.
Now, first, a sinner is very much like a debtor in this respect, — he is very apt to get more deeply into debt. If you owe a pound to-day, there is a great tendency to owe two pounds to-morrow. Getting into debt is a slippery process; and when your feet begin to slide, you are very apt to go deeper and deeper into the mire. And sure I am that this is the case with the Lord’s two debtors, — with the Lord’s unnumbered millions of debtors, — with all the Lord’s debtors. People say, “Money makes money,” and I suppose it does; but, certainly, sin makes sin. There is a cumulative force in evil, so that a sinner finds that it gets easier to sin, instead of becoming more difficult. While the man grows old, his sin does not; rather, it seems to grow younger, and to become more vigorous. Oftentimes, a sinner will be a greater adept in guilt, and more inclined to evil, the further he advances in years. Certain sins may decline through the weakening of the flesh, but the sins of the heart do not; the power to sin may grow less, but the will to sin continues to increase as the sinner grows older. This is one of the terrible things about iniquity, — that it breeds so fast. A man can never say to sin, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” When the great flood-tide of evil comes rolling in, there is no telling where it will be stayed. As debt leads to more debt, so sin leads to more sin, and hence it is that there is a parallel between the sinner and the debtor.
Further, sin, like debt, causes uneasiness in a man if there is a spark of honesty about him. Some men, who have no sense of honour, are quite happy while in debt. You may have read of a sale, that was to be held, in Rome, on one occasion, when there were to be sold the goods of a man who had been for many years greatly embarrassed by debt, and the emperor said to one of his chamberlains, “Go to the sale, and buy that man’s bed, for I cannot sleep at night; and, surely, I should be able to sleep on his bed, if he, being in debt, has been able to sleep so comfortably as I hear he has.” Debtors ought not to have good sleep if they have wantonly plunged themselves into debt. Honest men are troubled, vexed, perturbed, if they feel that they cannot meet their obligations. Now, when a sinner is thoroughly awakened to his true position, this is just his case; he says, “I am in debt to God, and I cannot pay even a farthing in the pound. If he comes to call me to account, and asks me, ‘How much owest thou unto thy Lord?’ what can I answer him? I am full of confusion, and full of fear.” Thus, you see, a sinner is like a debtor, because he has no rest.
And, further, debtors and sinners shun their creditors; they do not want to meet them, they try to get out of their way. Some of us know what it is to have cleared ourselves of rather troublesome friends by lending them money. We have never seen them since, so we reckon that it was a good investment, perhaps. A man, who is in debt, does not want to see the person to whom he owes the money; he would rather go down another street than meet him. If there is a knock at the door, and the person who wants to come in is one who has called for a debt which the debtor cannot discharge, he would sooner jump out of the back window, and make his escape, than he would meet him. And this is precisely the case with the sinner, he is in debt to God, and he does not like to meet his great Creditor. He will not regard the call of the church bell, and he will not keep holy the Sabbath day; he would rather forget about all such things. To read his Bible, to attend a service where he shall be reminded of his obligations, is most objectionable to him; he does not want to be reminded of them. If there should come one, in the dead of night, and cry in his chamber, “Prepare to meet thy God!” it would be more terrifying to him than an earthquake or the most terrific thunderstorm. He does not want to meet his God; he says, in his heart, if not in so many words, “No God! No God for me! I do not want a God;” and if it could be satisfactorily proved to him that God was dead, it would be one of the most joyful pieces of news that he had ever heard. He is so deeply in debt to God that he cries, “Whither shall I flee from his presence?” He would take the wings of the morning, if he could, and fly to the uttermost parts of the earth, if he thought that he could find some lonely spot where he would not be troubled by the fear of the presence of God. That is every sinner’s condition; that is the condition of every unconverted person here; that was once my condition, and the condition of everyone who is now a child of God.
The sinner, too, like the debtor, is in great danger. I do not know what the laws of England are, just now, concerning debt. Putting them into very simple English, I think they mean that nobody needs pay anybody unless he likes, and we have plenty of people who are getting rich by paying nobody at all. When they fail altogether, they break, and so make themselves. But I shall talk of the laws of England as they used to be. When a man was in debt, in the olden times, he was always in fear of arrest. He could not tell when the sheriff’s officer would lay his hand upon him. That is just your case, if you are an unforgiven, unpardoned sinner. You cannot tell, when God will arrest you; but it is certain that, sooner or later, — and even the later will not be long, — you will have to stand before his judgment-seat, and answer at the bar of inflexible justice for all your sins against him. I would not like to have been a debtor who, wherever he went, was likely to be arrested. I have heard of one, who was so often in debt, and so frequently in prison in consequence, but who so regularly ran into debt after he was let out of gaol, that, on one occasion, when his coat-sleeve caught on an area railing, he supposed it was the touch of the sheriff’s officer, and, thinking that he was again arrested, he exclaimed, “At whose suit?” It was only an iron bar that held him, but he imagined that one of his many creditors had claimed him. That must be a wretched kind of life for anyone to live, — to be always afraid of arrest. You smile at the idea; but, if you were really in that condition, I do not suppose that you would smile then; and if you realized that, at any moment, you might be arrested by the cold hand of death, smiles would be far enough from your countenance. A man may be sitting in one of these pews, and, ere the clock ticks again, he may be in the world of spirits before his God. I am often hearing of persons, whom I have lately met, apparently in robust health, who have been suddenly called away. They are gone, but we are still spared. In thought, I saw a procession passing before me; at first, I imagined that it was flesh and blood marching down the street; but, as the procession passed me, I discovered that all who composed it were but shadows. I, who was looking on, am also a shadow, and I, too, shall pass away. O debtor to a righteous God, this thought should cause disquietude within your careless spirit, — that, at any moment, you may be arrested at the suit of your great Creditor!
And then, mark you, according to the law of God, when arrested by death, you are cast into prison. You remember how our Saviour put it: “Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” Oh, what a dreadful prison that is into which souls will be cast, who die in debt to God! And, since they can never pay even a farthing off their debt, there can be no release for them. How long shall they lie there? Till they have paid the uttermost farthing? Why, that can never be! So, mind what you are at, ye who are indebted to God, lest ye be cast into that dreadful dungeon. Trifle not away your time, I pray you; but fly to Jesus, who alone can deliver you from this weight of debt, for your danger is imminent at this very moment.
There is this about our debt to God, — that it will never be forgotten by him. I did once know a man, who was much troubled by a debt, but his creditor was not; for many years had passed, and he had never mentioned it; in fact, it had entirely slipped from his memory. I do not think such a case as that often happens, but I remember that one; but it will never happen with God. Nothing will ever slip from his memory. Sin is irrevocable and eternal. There is one process that can blot it out, or cast it into the depths of the sea, and make it cease to be; there is but one such process, and the Christ of God can tell you what that is. But, apart from his atoning sacrifice, there is no hope that the debt will ever be forgotten or forgiven.
And there is no protection for those who are in debt to the great Creditor. Protection is sometimes given to an insolvent debtor; and, in the olden times, there used to be places of sanctuary to which men fled, and so were free from liability to be arrested. Even now, men flee across the seas to avoid arrest; they cross the narrow channel that parts us from the Continent, and there they are secure. But there is no such way of escape for those who are in debt to God. If you are one of his debtors through sin, there is no protection for you unless you flee to Christ. There is no distance of space or lapse of time, no repentance or tears, that can blot out your transgressions. There they stand, indelible; neither can you escape from the righteous hand of God in the day when he shall visit you for them.
This makes our indebtedness to God assume a very terrible shape; and if we have not been delivered from it by Christ, what can we do? For, no composition can be taken in paid payment of our enormous debt. Even if it could be, we could not offer it; and there is no friend who can give to God a ransom for us, or stand in our stead. Nay, let me correct myself. There is one Friend, and never let us forget him, — One who became Surety for his people, and who was made to smart for it in that day when he paid their debts, to the uttermost farthing, by laying down his life for them. But, clear friends, if there is anyone among us here, who is still in debt to God on the matter of obedience, and who cannot present to him the righteousness of Christ on his own behalf; and who, in the matter of penalty, cannot bring to God the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, and plead that it was offered for him, his case is a very sad and wretched one indeed. The Lord deliver all such in his great mercy!
I have been speaking figuratively, but there is truth at the back of it all. It is no figure, no emblem, no fancy, but a dread and terrible reality, that all sinners are in debt to God.
II. Now comes the second thought, which will have much soul-searching power about it if God the Holy Spirit blesses it; and that is, that SOME SINNERS ARE GREATER DEBTORS TO GOD THAN OTHERS ARE: “The one owed five hundred pence; and the other fifty.”
We have all sinned, so we are all debtors to God; but we have not all sinned to the same degree, therefore we are not all debtors to the same extent. There are some sins that are greater than other sins; and, both in this world and in the next, punishments are to be measured out proportionately. There are some to whom it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment than it will be to others. Our Lord said even to Pontius Pilate, “He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin;” so, clearly, one sin is greater than another. Every sin is great enough to ruin a soul for ever, but there are some sins that have a peculiar crimson about them, — a special venom and heinousness of offence against the majesty of God. What constitutes, then, the five hundred pence debtor? Who are the people that are greater sinners than others?
I answer, first, that there are some who have greater capacity than others. There are some men and women who have but very little intellectual power. Their minds are narrow, their power of thought is limited; they cannot, under any circumstances, commit the transgressions which are easy enough to men of great thought, imperious, masterly minds, with much inventive power and strong passions. Judge ye as to your own condition in this respect. Some of you may know that you are very differently constituted from some of your neighbours. You may even have been tempted, in a moment of pride, to look upon them as very commonplace sort of folk; and you are quite aware, without any pride, that you are a person of far greater ability than they are. Very well, then it is possible for you to be a far greater sinner than they can be; you can throw more force and energy, more devilry, into your life than they can. I have no doubt that there are many people, who slip through life with little mind, little mental force, and with comparatively little sin. They know but little, and think but little, and their condemnation will be little compared with that of greater sinners. But persons of great intellect, and vast powers of mind, and thought, and understanding, cannot sin as those feebler ones do.
Some also are great sinners because they are placed in positions of great trust. He who has but one talent can only sin with regard to that one talent; but he who has ten talents, is ten times as unrighteous in the sight of his Master. A man, who is but a house-servant, or a day-labourer, may be unfaithful to his worldly master; and, so far, he will be wrong. But think of the position of a minister of the gospel, the man to whom the souls of men are committed. If he is unfaithful to his Master, what terrible consequences are involved! And, as his reward is higher than the wages of the man that tills the soil, so shall his punishment be greater. Mark the difference of the sacrifice for a priest compared with the offering for a woman’s purification. She might come with a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, but not so the sons of Aaron. Their office was higher; and, if they sinned, their iniquity was, in consequence, all the greater; and there must be presented, in the type, a costlier sacrifice, in recognition of the greater guilt in their case. You, fathers and mothers, can sin more than your children can. Masters, you can sin more than your servants can. Men of wealth, you can sin against every pound you have, if you use it wrongfully. Men who occupy high places, your sin may be like that of David, who greatly disgraced the name of God before men. Because of your exalted position, you can do so much more mischief; and your sin, therefore, is reckoned at a proportionately higher rate.
Sin, too, becomes greater in proportion to a man’s light and knowledge. A young man, blessed with godly parents, brought up from his childhood in the midst of prayer and holiness, can sin much more than poor children taken out of the back slums, and who, from their very babyhood, have heard words of blasphemy, and seen deeds of filthiness. Oh, when some of us, whose privilege it was to hear the name of Jesus mingled with the first hush of our lullaby, — when we sinned against God, there was an intensity of blackness about our sin that could not be found in the poor heathen, or in such sinners, in this land, as are left in ignorance. The more you know, — the more you understand of the mind and will of God, — the greater is your transgression when you sin against him. Sin, too, is very largely increased by tenderness of conscience. There are some persons who must know that this assertion is true, if they have looked into their own hearts and lives; for they were very tender-spirited in their youth, and, as they grew up, they retained much of that tenderness. There are some coarse, rough, brutal men, who could almost commit murder, and not feel it; but some of us can remember the horror which came upon us when, for the first time, we used or heard an ill word. You remember how the breach of the Sabbath cut you to the quick when it was only a small matter about which others thought nothing. You recollect also how, when you found yourself out in having told a lie, perhaps, unintentionally, you could not sleep, you felt so mean and miserable. Well, now, if you have forced yourself to sin in spite of such a check as this, — if you have, as it were, gone over hedge and ditch in order to get to hell, — if you have throttled and strangled your better self with stern resolve that you would do evil, — then you have sinned indeed.
There are some such sinners, and there may be some such here, who have suffered through sin, and yet have gone back to it. In the summer and autumn evenings, it is one of the miseries of a man who sits writing to find how the poor gnats and the “daddy long legs” will fly to the lamp, and get burned to death. You try to drive them away; you take the trouble to pick them up after they have burnt themselves; but back they come again, and their folly is a true and melancholy picture of the way in which some men return to their vices, again and again, even after they have suffered greatly through indulgence in them. Even delirium tremens will not suffice to save some men from continuing to be drunkards; and the rottenness of their bones has not been sufficient to keep others back from the house of the strange woman. Oh, how horrible is this; and how it adds to the guilt of sin, and puts upon it a certain degree of pre-sumptuousness which provokes God beyond the ordinary transgressions of common sinners.
Does this truth come home to the conscience of anyone whom I am now addressing? The I go back to my preface, and ask such an one to say, with Simon the Pharisee, “Master, say on.” There is always a great intensity about sin when it is practised for a long time. The sinner who is sixty years old, is a greater sinner than a mere youth can well be; and the man, who has spent three-score years and ten without remembering his God, — the man, whose life-lease has run out, and yet who, all the while, has spent his vigour in the service of Satan, — has become one of the greatest of sinners, — one of the five hundred pence debtors.
Yes, there are degrees of sin. Sometimes, a man recognizes that he has distinctly sinned against God a specially personal way David seemed to feel when he said to the Lord, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” Usually, unenlightened men think most of an offence against their fellow-men. It is very curious that it should be so, but so it is. If I were to charge any man here with the commission of a crime against his fellows, he would probably knock me down if he could; but if I charged him with a sin against God, he would say, “Oh, yes, yes! we are all sinners,” and think that it was nothing to be a sinner, because it was only against God! Thus men turn things upside down, and an offence against our fellow-worm is reckoned to be a greater evil than an offence against the Judge of all the earth; but it is not so. It is that sinning distinctly against God that has the most evil about it; and hence it is that there is but one sin that is unpardonable, and that is a wilful sin against the Holy Ghost, one Person of the blessed Trinity. It is because it is so especially and so designedly against him that no repentance ever comes to the man who has committed it; for he has sinned the sin which is unto death, and he remains in his death-state, so that he never repents of the iniquity, and finds no forgiveness for it. Beware, I pray you, of sins distinctly against God, especially such sins as that of blasphemy, of murmuring against God, of infidelity, of a denial of his existence, of Socinianism, which is a robbing of Christ of his Deity, and so of his highest glory; for those sins which are most distinctly against God stand first in the dread catalogue of iniquity. Remember how the prophet Samuel said to Saul, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” Witchcraft was thought to be one of the worst of sins, and rebellion against God is put side by side with it.
And, last, I do believe that the greatest sin of all — that which like giant, rises head and shoulders above the rest, — is the sin of Unbelief, or rejection of mercy of God in Christ Jesus. If any man here shall say, “I am no drunkard; I am no whoremonger;” well, sir, suppose you are not; but are you an unbeliever in Christ? Then, you shall have the same portion as they have; for, when God says, “I will give my only-begotten Son to die to save sinners,” and yet men say, “we will not have they Son as our Saviour, but we will reject him. ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours;’” — when God takes out of his own bosom the darling of his heart, the very glory of heaven, and sends him here in human flesh and blood to bear shame, and suffering, and death for guilty men, and they say that they will not believe on him; then, this is the sin tat turns the key of heaven against them, and dooms them to eternal destruction. Remember the solemn words of our Lord Jesus himself: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Here again these familiar words: “He that believeth not is condemned already.” Why is he condemned already? He is living, he is laughing, he is sporting, he is merry-making; yet he is condemned already,” because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.” That is the sin which, above all others, drops the black wax upon his death-warrant, and sets the seal of divine wrath there so that he must die.
O my dear hearers, our text says that one of the debtors owned five hundred pence; and, surely, that is the man who has heard the gospel, and yet has refused it. It is you who have been coming to this place, or to other houses of prayer, and who have ben warned, and invited, and entreated, for months and years, I know not how long, to believer in Jesus. If such be the case with any one of you,
put yourself down, not as a fifty pence debtor, but as a five hundred pence debtor. Nay, I think I must liken you to him who owed his master ten thousand talents. How can you ever pay it? There is no hope of your ever paying it. You can have it all frankly and freely forgiven. If you go to Christ, and plead perfect poverty, you shall then be set free at once through faith in his dear name. But if not, you must be delivered over to the keeper of the terrible prison-house of which I spoke to you, and you can never come out thence. God grant that it may not be so with any of you, for his dear Son’s sake! Amen.