Number 2,400; or, Escape For Thy Life!
“Escape for thy life.” — Genesis xix. 17.
THE Lord himself said to Lot, “Escape for thy life,” although the command was sent by one of his chosen messengers. God has messengers nowadays; and he still sends by them short, sharp, urgent, stimulating messages like this, “Escape for thy life.” This message was sent in love. God loved Lot, and therefore he would save him from the impending doom of Sodom. I doubt not that this message of love was spoken by the messenger in very solemn tones. I do not know how angels speak, but I am certain that the very heart of the messenger was apparent in the message when he said to Lot, “Escape for thy life.” Whether he whispered it in his ears, or uttered it in louder accents, I cannot tell; anyhow, I am sure that it was delivered as it ought to be delivered, and it had an immediate effect upon the man who heard it, for he was obedient to it.
Now, it may be, that God has designs of love towards you who are here, who as yet have never fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before you. Remember that the gospel admonition comes to you fresh from God; it has been in this blessed Book for ages, but it has not grown stale. It still leaps from the mouth of God, filled with all its native energy; and though I who have to deliver it to you may not speak it as I could desire, for I am very feeble, I will at least speak it out of the very depths of my soul, while I try to plead with every unconverted man or woman whom my message may reach; and this shall be the one burden of my pleading, “Escape for thy life.”
I. Notice, first, that THERE WAS NO SAFETY FOR LOT WHERE HE WAS.
He must escape from the doomed city; the angel did not propose to him that he should stop in Sodom, and beneath some sheltering arch hide himself from the fire-shower; no, the message was, “Escape; fly from Sodom; ‘escape for thy life.’ ” So, to you who are unconverted, we can bring no proposals of hope if you stay where you are; we can hold out no hope to you either in this world or in that which is to come. Neither a lesser nor a “larger hope” do we believe in, apart from your laying hold on eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ. Stay where you are, and you are doomed. Remain what you are, and you must perish in the overthrow of that City of Destruction which God will certainly burn up before long.
There was no safety for Lot where he was; so, let me say to you who are unbelieving and unconverted, there is no safety for you in unforgiven sin. It does not matter what form your sin has taken,— whether you have been a profligate or a moralist,— as long as the sin you have committed is unforgiven, there is no safety for you. Whether your sins be as scarlet, or, in your judgment, of a milder hue, does not affect the truth of what I say; you must be washed in the precious blood of Christ, and pardoned through his great atoning sacrifice received by faith, or else you will die in your sins, and you will be driven to the place where hope can never enter. If you die with your sins upon you,— where death leaves you, eternity will find you; once lost, you will be lost for ever. So, there is no safety in unforgiven sin.
And, further, there is no safety in unforsaken sin. No, you must escape for your life from every sin. The drunkard cannot be saved and keep to his cups. The adulterer cannot be saved and indulge his evil passions. The thief cannot be saved and remain dishonest. The only salvation for you is salvation from your sins; and that is the salvation that we preach. How many would like to be saved from the punishment due to sin, and yet to be suffered to go on in the sin; but there is nothing of that kind of teaching in the Scripture. God did not send his Son to be the excuser or the minister of sin; but to be the Saviour from sin. There is no hope for you if you stop in this Sodom; you must get out of it, you must clear right away from it. Perhaps you say, “I will change my place of residence; I will go from the slums of the evil city into the cleaner and more respectable part of it.” I tell you that you have to come right out of it; you must altogether quit the region of sin, you must fly from the realms of iniquity, or else you shall be consumed in the destruction of the city. Up and away from all sin! Up and away! Our cry is not, “Hide in a corner,” or, “Shift into a better place;” but, “Escape for thy life.”
Again, there is no safety in unbelief You may say, “I do not believe this;” but, as the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, it is true. In my own heart, and soul, and conscience, I know that there is a Judge of all the earth, and that he must do right, and that the day shall come when he will execute vengeance upon those who live and die in sin, for he cannot wink at iniquity. It is not in the nature of a holy God to suffer sin to go unpunished. You may shut your eyes to the truth; but it is there. You may disbelieve it; but it is there. You may ridicule it; but it is there, and you shall before long know it to be so. You must come out of this state of unbelief if you are to be saved. There is no salvation in unbelief. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” There is to be no flinching in this matter; I am not sent hereto please you who do not believe, or to talk with bated breath, as though I sympathized with your unbelief. I denounce it as high treason against the majesty of God; and therefore I cry unto you, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel,” for if you will not, you must perish in your unbelief. “If ye believe not,” saith Christ, “that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” There is no safety in unbelief, and therefore we say, as the angel said to Lot, “Escape for thy life.”
And once more, let me remind you that there is no safety in self-righteousness. If anybody here says, “Thank God, I am no doubter, I am no profligate, I am no open sinner,” I am glad if you can truthfully say that; but still remember, if you trust in your own righteousness, you cannot be saved. You must come out of that condemned city, or else you are a lost man. I spoke with one, this morning, who is, I believe, earnestly seeking salvation, and he said to me, “I have denied myself this, and I have cast away that;” and I was pleased to hear it. But I said to him, “You have denied these things to yourself, but have you denied yourself? That is to say, have you left off trusting in yourself?” The hardest self-denial is to deny yourself, and get right away from all confidence in your own doings, and feelings, and everything that comes of yourself; for you might as well hope to be saved by your sins as by your good works. The road to hell by human merit is as certain as the road there by human sin. If you seek, anyhow, to insult the atonement of Christ by setting up your merit as though it were as good as that atonement, or by trying to prove that you do not need that atonement, you are just barring heaven’s gate against yourself. You must come out of that self – righteousness if you would be saved. My only cry to you is, “Escape, escape, escape for thy life, for there is no safety for you where you are!”
II. But now, in the next place, according to this message of the angel, IF LOT IS TO BE SAVED, HE MUST RUN FOR IT AT ALL COSTS: “Escape for thy life.”
First, he must leave his former comrades. Have you any jolly companions, who are not Christians? “They are bright, lively fellows,” you say; but they are doing you infinite mischief, they are leading you away from God and his Christ. Break loose from them: “Escape for thy life.” Though they seek to hold you back, tear yourself away from them, and even leave your garment in their hands, as Joseph left his in the hands of Potiphar’s wife. “Escape for thy life.” Quit all ill company.
Next, Lot had to leave his former comforts. For the sake of comfort, he had gone to Sodom; and, doubtless, he had his house well furnished there; but he must quit it all. Probably it was that excellent house that made Lot’s wife look back; she could hardly relinquish all those nice things of theirs even for life itself. Beware, when thou art seeking Christ, that thou dost not let thy money or thy business stand in thy way! It will be better for thee to enter heaven a beggar than, being a rich man, to be cast into hell. It were better for thee to be as houseless as the most unpitied waif about whom the wintry winds are howling, it were better for thee to die in a ditch, and to be saved, than that thou shouldst live in a palace, and yet after all be cast into hell fire. I charge thee, be ready to give up all things, if need be, sooner than lose thy soul. “Escape, escape, escape for thy life!”
Yet again, Lot must not stop to argue; nor must you. You do not see the danger, you want more evidence, you have objections;— to all of which my one solitary answer is, “Escape, escape, escape for thy Life!” You have not time for me to discuss your difficulties now; when you are saved, it will be soon enough for us to argue out the moot points; but now, while the fire-cloud hovers above your head, escape for your life! Yonder drowning man will not clutch the rope until I have explained to him the doctrine of specific gravity. O fool, what hast thou to do with specific gravity when thou art drowning? Lay hold of the rope, and live! So, there are some who must have election or predestination explained to them, or the doctrine of the human will; they must have this, that, and the other opened up to them, and made clear as daylight. I beseech you, do not be such madmen; do not trifle with your souls, but escape for your life. That is the one business of the present hour, see to that first, and let other matters wait awhile till you are in a fit condition to consider them.
If Lot is to be rescued, he must, as men say, put his best foot foremost. It is quite early in the morning; but ere the sun has risen much higher, all Sodom and Gomorrah must be destroyed. Thou hast already waited far too long, my unsaved friend, grey hairs are on thy head here and there, why wilt thou delay any longer? Didst thou not catch the solemn tones of our hymn,—
“Hasten, sinner, to be wise,
Stay not for the morrow’s sun”?
We sang that line over and over again in the different verses,—
“Stay not for the morrow’s sun.”
Oh, that God would, in great mercy, press that appeal home upon thee! “Escape for thy life.” Lot must not sit down, and take things easy; nor must thou. Lot must not begin to crawl at a snail’s pace, and amuse himself by looking down every side street of Sodom, as he quits it; but he must run from the doomed city, and thou also, by God’s grace, must bestir thyself. Thou must quit thy sin by repentance, and lay hold of Christ by faith. God help thee so to do! Oh, that my lips could speak the longing language of my heart, and cease to utter the feeble syllables that do not express half what I feel! How can words fully express the burning desires of a soul yearning over sinners? But be thou willing to be led, even by my feeble speech, to hearken to God’s almighty voice as he says to thee, through me his messenger, “Escape for thy life.”
I cannot help, just by way of parenthesis, pointing out to you the contrast between the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the repentance of the Ninevites. At the command of God, Jonah went through Nineveh, and this was all he had to say, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Again, and again, and again, in bitter tones, the prophet cried, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown;” and the whole body of the Ninevites sought for mercy, and found it, with nothing to help them to pray but this, “Who can toll if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” Now, if you have nothing better to comfort you than this, “Who can tell?
“ ’Perhaps lie will admit my plea,
Perhaps will hear my prayer,’ ”
why, you have good ground to go upon in approaching your God. But, friends, you are not under such a dispensation as were the Ninevites; I have not to cry to you, “Yet forty days, and you shall be destroyed.” I have to tell you that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and that whosoever believeth in him hath everlasting life. I have to entreat and beseech you to lay hold on eternal life by believing in the Lord Jesus. Oh, how you ought to welcome such a message as that!
If there is anybody whom I am addressing who is actually marked for death, and who knows that he carries about in his body that which must in a very short time bring him to the grave, one who is well aware that he cannot recover from the incurable disease that has seized him, yet that should not hinder him from seeking God’s face, rather it should move him at once to turn to Jesus. I can see a man before me now,— my mind’s eye can see him, and I know that he must die; I am sure of it. Poor wretch, he has been a thief! His hands and both his feet are nailed up, they are bleeding from the cruel nails, and within a short time he must die in agony. Yet I hear him cry out, as he turns his eyes on Jesus Christ crucified, “Lord, remember me.” He is nearly dead, and almost in hell, but he cries, “Lord, remember me,” and he is saved, and to-day is with Christ in Paradise. Now, you who have a cancer, you who are sick and ill, you who are poor and broken down, and feel as if you must soon die, you who are as great a sinner as the dying thief was, say to Jesus, “Lord, remember me,” and he will remember you. There is no reason under the earth, nor on the earth, nor in heaven itself, there is no supposable reason why you should not pray, and if you pray, and seek the Lord’s face, you shall not come to him in vain, for he hath said “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” God help you to come now, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake!
III. Now, to conclude, let me remind you that LOT HAD EVERYTHING AT STAKE, and therefore the angel said to him, “Escape for thy life.”
Suppose he had stayed in Sodom; then he would have lost all. He would not have saved his furniture, or his gold, or his silver; he would have lost all that he had. Suppose you stop in your sin; will you really save anything by it? “I shall save myself from thought,” says one. Oh, but dost thou think thyself an ox, or an ass, that thought should be a trouble to thee? Why, it surely will be thy wisdom to addict thyself to the most sedulous care about thy eternal interests! Suppose there should be a cry of “Fire!” raised in this house to-night, as there was but a little while ago in Spitalfields, how many there are who would rush to the doors in a mad panic to escape for their lives! Yet, surely, the soul’s life, the eternal life, is more precious than the life of the body. Will you not make that the first point to be considered and settled; for, if you could by sin gain the whole world, yet what would it profit you when you would lose your own soul?
Again, if Lot had not fled out of Sodom, he would himself have perished. Not merely would his garments have been burnt, but he must have perished; not only would his gold and his silver have melted in the fire, but he would himself have perished. That was a true saying, though Satan uttered it, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life;” and all that a man hath ought he to give for his soul, for the immortal part of his being, for his higher and better nature. Why, if thy soul be cast into hell, it would have been better for thee that thou hadst never been born! If thou dost neglect the great salvation, and thou dost die and perish in thy iniquity, man, thou hast lost everything! Thou art not merely like a bankrupt who has lost his gold, but thou hast lost thyself. I beseech thee, therefore, hearken to me as I cry to thee, in my Master’s name, “ ‘Escape for thy life,’ thy immortal life, which is now in imminent danger.” Thy existence will continue whether thou art lost or saved; but thy life! — hast thou yet received eternal life at the hands of God? Thy life! — wilt thou be content to lose it, and to perish in thy sin?
The worst point about this story is that, if Lot had not escaped, he would have perished with the men of Sodom. He could not endure them, he was vexed with their filthy conversation; how horrible, then, would it have been for him to perish with them! I cannot bear to think that some of you upright, moral people, may yet be lost. You were never drunkards; and yet you will perish with the drunkards, unless you repent, and trust in Jesus. You were never swearers; but you will be as surely damned as the blasphemers will be, unless you come to Christ. You cannot bear unchastity or filthiness of language, there is much about you that is most amiable and excellent; but even to you the Saviour says, “Ye must be born again;” and if you are not born again, if you have no faith in Christ, if you are not converted so as to become as little children, you will as surely perish as will the worst of men. You sometimes read in the newspaper a horrible story of vice and crime, and you wish that it had never been printed, and I wish the same; but what must it be for you to be shut up for ever with such as those who commit these unmentionable abominations? Yet there are but two places for man’s eternal abode, heaven and hell; and if you are not saved so as to go to heaven, where can you go but into the same pit with all the multitude of transgressors who shall perish in their sins? I wish that you who are outwardly moral and upright would think of this truth. It does seem to me as if I ought not further to press it upon you, for you are reasonable beings, you are not shut up in Bedlam. I pray you, therefore, run no longer such fearful risks as you have run hitherto; but escape for your lives.
If Lot had been destroyed in the overthrow of Sodom, there would have been one thing about him which there would not have been about the race of the Sodomites, he would have perished after having been warned. When the fire-flakes began to fall, and Lot felt the terrible burnings, he would have had this barbed dart driven into his heart,— “I was bidden to escape. I was taken outside the city gate; I was led to a place of vantage, and charged to escape for my life. Nobody else had that opportunity, nobody else in these cities was called thus to escape; but I had a special appeal made to me by the messenger of God, and I refused it; and therefore I shall die a self -murderer, having chosen my own delusions.” O sirs, O sirs, if you go from this Tabernacle to hell, it shall be hard work for you! If you will perish, I will be clear of your blood. As long as this voice can speak, I will plead with you that you do not destroy yourselves. Look at the myriads of Africa, and the millions in China and India, who have never heard the gospel. I leave their future in the hands of God all-merciful; but they cannot enter heaven. Neither can you; but there will be this about your doom, that you had the means of grace, you had the invitations of mercy, you had the expostulations of God’s Word; and you chose— you resolutely chose— to put far from you eternal life. O God, thou who hast made these men and women, if they have lost their reason, give it back to them, and may thy sweet Spirit teach them now to judge righteously, and may they at once count it to be inevitable that every wise man should escape for his life, and flee from the wrath to come!
I shall not detain you much longer, for surely I have said sufficient; only this much must be added before I close. There was a special favour in the case of Lot, for Abraham had prayed for him. I should not wonder if some here present are receiving a warning from me just now because some one else has been praying for them. Abraham had prayed for Sodom, and, of course, especially for Lot; and therefore God’s messenger must go to bring Lot out of the doomed city. At this moment, while I am speaking, your mother is praying for you. While I am preaching, your wife is praying for you. Some of you have been made the subjects of special and particular prayer; you know that it is so. She who is now in heaven never ceased to pray for you as long as she was here; and her many prayers— shall they not be answered now? They are undying prayers, though she who breathed them has long been dead; and they still live in the presence of God. Has he not sent his messenger on that account to bring you out of the City of Destruction? Here! Here! Let me grasp your hand, and let us together flee from the wrath to come, and run to yonder cross, where there is safety, for none ever looked to the Christ that bled thereon, and looked in vain. I feel impressed that there are some persons to whom this message is a peculiar answer to very special prayers that have gone up to God on their behalf.
This message will, I trust, come to them as a special warning, as the Lord’s messengers reached Lot in a mysterious way. How came those angels in Sodom to tell Lot to escape for his life? How very oddly people are brought where the message of salvation is proclaimed! You did not intend to be in the Tabernacle to-night, did you? You had an engagement to be somewhere else; but here you are, and you have never been here before. Yesterday, you would not even have dreamt of being here to-night; but here you are. To what end are you here? God has in a mysterious way brought you here to look in the face of this man who cares for your soul, and who says to you in the name of God, “I beseech you, escape for your life!”
Then, again, this message came to Lot at a special time, on the morning in which the city was to be destroyed. An hour later, it would have been too late. I sometimes feel an awful solemnity creeping over me as I stand in this place, because I know many things which I cannot tell you about the strange way in which God speaks here. You remember that, just before I went away for my rest, I told you the story of the godless young man, who left his father’s house, and was going to Australia, followed by his parents’ prayers. It was Sunday night, he was about to sail on Wednesday, and he thought that he would spend the Sunday evening here in this house, as he knew that it would please his mother. Better still, it pleased God that night to touch his heart, and we trust to save his soul. I put into the “Personal Notes” in The Sword and the Trowel for December the letter that he wrote home to his parents telling them how God had met with their prodigal boy. That letter reached them only a few hours before a telegram arrived, saying that the vessel had been run into at Gravesend, and the young man and five others had been drowned! Oh, what a mercy that, just a few hours before he had to meet his God, his God met with him! I may be speaking to some others who are in just the same position, just on the borders of eternity; I cannot tell. You know that it is but two or three Sunday nights ago since one of our brethren sat over yonder, in the last pew in the middle; he came into the Tabernacle, covered his face for prayer, and died immediately. We had to delay the service, you recollect, while he was quietly carried away. He was a child of God; but suppose it had been some of you, suppose it were some of you to-night; what would become of you? God save you even now! Do not run any more risks. There is but a step between you and death, a step between you and hell, if you are unbelievers. Therefore, escape for your lives, and escape to-night.
“Stay not for the morrow’s sun.”
God help you to have done with delaying, and to feel that you must and will run away to the Lord Jesus Christ at once! Put your soul into his hands; and if you do so, he gives you this warrant, “None shall pluck you from my hands.” Your soul will be safe enough in his keeping. If I take my money to the bank, it is credited to my account. What do I do then? Do I loaf about, and at last say to the clerk, “Is that money safe?” He would think that my mind was a little wandering. Some time ago, there was a bank in Prance to which there came a man who had put in some thousand francs or so, and he said to the banker, “Have you got my thousand francs?” “Yes, certainly; do you want the money out?” “I should like to see it,” he said. “Well, there is a thousand francs,” and he laid them down before him on the counter. “Thank you,” he said, “I do not know that I want to take the cash away now; it is there all right, so I am satisfied.” The next morning, he came in again, and he wanted once more to see his money; I believe that the banker cut the connection, and told him that he did not want such a customer as that to bank with him. If he could not trust the banker with his money, he had better take it home with him. Now, if you cannot trust Christ with your souls, why, go and save yourselves; but if you can trust Christ, put away all those foolish doubts, and fears, and anxieties, and say,—
“Firm as his throne his promise stands,
And he can well secure
What I’ve committed to his hands
Till the decisive hour.
“Then will he own my worthless name
Before his Father’s face;
And in the New Jerusalem
Appoint my soul a place.”
Finally, the reason why the angel’s message had such power with Lot was that God himself was in it. That gave it a special pressure; and I have been praying that God himself may be in my message now, that he may speak, gently speak, and powerfully speak, to many of you. You will scarcely know why it is, but you will say, “I never felt like this before. I will arise, and go unto my Father. I will repent of my sin. I will look to Jesus, the crucified Saviour, God helping me! But why am I saying this? Why do I feel thus softened, I who used to be hard as steel? Why am I moved to this surrender of myself to my Saviour?” It will be the sweet Spirit of the blessed God gently working upon your heart, and graciously inclining you to yield yourself unto the Lord. I pray that it may be so, even now, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.