Scarlet Sinners Pardoned and Purified
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins he as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”— Isaiah i. 18.
THERE is a quarrel between man and his Maker. It is a sad thing that the creature should have fallen out with his Creator, it is a pitiful business that those who are dependent upon the bounty of God should have rebelled against the hand that has fed them; yet it is even so. Man has turned aside from the way of God’s commandments; he will not submit to Jehovah’s sway.
Under such circumstances, it is a wonderful instance of divine compassion that God should be willing to hold a conference with man. Of course, the first person to ask for such a conference ought to have been the offending party; it is man who has offended, it is man who will have to suffer the consequence of his offences. But, instead of man seeking God, and pleading, with bitter tears, “Lord, pitifully hear me; graciously listen to me, and forgive me;” it is God who comes seeking man, the offended One is first in the effort to make up the quarrel. It is he who says, “Come now, and let us reason together.” He proposes to confer with man about the question in dispute. Admire much the freeness of God’s mercy, that, after you have transgressed against him, and provoked him again and again, he still hesitates to hurl at you the thunderbolts of his justice. Instead thereof, he invites you to talk with him as to the cause of your quarrel, to reason with him about your war against your Maker.
Surely, dear friends, it should be a great joy to a man to hear that God invites him to a conference; he should take heart of hope from that fact, he should say, “If God had meant to destroy me, he would not have said, ‘Come now, and let us reason together.’” When the One, who possesses all power, and who could, in a single moment, crush those who have sinned against him, yet says, “Come, let us talk this matter over,” it must mean that he is moved by love and mercy, it must mean that there is yet hope for the guilty, an opportunity of man, the enemy, being reconciled to his offended God. I think it will be wisdom on our part, sinful creatures that we are, to accept the conference that God proposes. Anyhow, we cannot lose anything by it. If the Lore says, “Come now, and let us reason together,” he must have some design of love in it; therefore, let us come, and return to our God, and reason with him. I would invite any man here, who is at all desirous to be right with God, to begin to think about his God, and about his own ways. Surely, it is high time with some of you that you should turn to him whom you have so long provoked. There is his Book, for instance; do you read it? Does not the dust upon it witness against you? You do not think it worth while to know what God has revealed in his Word. You treat your Maker and your Friend as if his letters were not worth even an hour’s reading; you leave them utterly neglected. Is this as it should be? If you want to get right with God, should not the first step be to obey that command, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, consider your ways”? And should not the next step be obedience to that other word, “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee”? I cannot see how it can be wise for a man to neglect his God, and to despise what his Maker has to say to him. It must be wise for us to confer with the Lord about this matter. If, after the conference, we should come to a decision contrary to what is to be desired, yet we shall at least have given a fair consideration to the subject. Let us listen, then, to the gentle yet powerful voice of God, which says to us, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.”
You all know what the quarrel is about, for you heard the chapter read. You love sin; and God cannot and will not bless you until you have parted with it. The greatest blessing that God can give you is to part you and your sins. The salvation which we so freely proclaim is not, as some suppose, salvation at the last for those who continue in sin; it is deliverance from sin. The salvation which we continually preach, as the work of the free grace of God, is salvation from the reigning power, the raging lust of sin. Free pardon for all past offences is presented to everyone who believes in Jesus; but the grand aim is to set you free from the love of evil, and from taking any delight in sin.
Now, evil is evil; that which is evil towards God is also evil towards yourself. It cannot work your happiness to do what is wrong. You may think it will; but God’s judgment is clearer than yours, and his laws may be viewed as plain directions how you can be happy. When he forbids you anything, it is simply a warning against that which is dangerous to your soul. He has denied us no pleasure which can be called a real pleasure. He has given to us everything that is truly good for our immortal spirits; and, if we follow in the way that he maps out, it shall be not only for our eternal profit, but also for our present enjoyment.
In effect, God says to us, “If you would meet with me, you must be rid of sin; and I am prepared to help you, nay, I am prepared to rid you of sin. If you desire to be free from it, my Holy Spirit has put that desire within your heart; and if you yield yourself up to him, he will rid you of sin altogether, root and branch.”
So here begins the conference. The man enters into debate with God; I will suppose that he does so to-night, and that his first declaration to God is, “My sins are as glaring as scarlet.” “Well,” replies the Lord, “I will take you on your own ground, I will admit that your sins are as scarlet; but I will so remove them that you shall be as white as snow.” The man next says, “But if all my old sins were forgiven, yet my tendency to sin is deeply ingrained. I should sin again as I have sinned before. If I start anew with a clean book, I shall run into debt again as I did at the first.” The Lord meets that statement also, and he says, “Though the evil tendencies of your nature are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. I will get the stain out, I will restore the fabric to its original cleanliness, I will make the long-dyed crimson wool to be as pure as when it first grew upon the sheep’s back.”
So God meets man in two ways; he meets him, first, by the perfect pardon of sin, and, next, by a clean deliverance from the power of sin. Of those two things I am going to talk to-night pretty plainly.
I. And, first, I will suppose that I have before me someone who says, MY SINS ARE AS GLARING AS SCARLET. How can I ever be the friend of God as my sins are so prominent? Some people’s sins are of a drab colour, you might not notice them; other people’s sins are a sort of whitey-brown, you would scarcely perceive them; but my sins are scarlet, that is a colour that is at once observed. There is a strikingness about my sin; nobody could miss it, the eye is attracted and detained by it. My sins are as glaring as scarlet.” Now, what sort of sins are those that may be called scarlet?
I say, first, that they are the filthier vices. You do not expect me to go into a description of them. At times, the ear of the public has been astounded by revelations of the vice in this great city. It was done once, till we were all sick; and we are glad that it has not been done again; I pray God that it may not be. But the sin itself is a thousand times filthier than the exposure of it; and yet there are some hypocrites in the world who say, “What a disgusting paper!” while they themselves are guilty of the very vice which is there laid bare. It is the sin that is disgusting, not the account of it, although I admit that the recital of it is harrowing and painful. If you have been guilty of those sins of the body which destroy, not only yourself, but another also; if, in the days of your youth, or in the riper years of your manhood or womanhood, you have polluted yourself by such vices, these are scarlet sins, such as will dog a man in his dying moments, and howl at him as he passes into the mystery of another world. I pray God that everyone here, who has been guilty of such sins, may listen to this text, — and we need not deceive ourselves about this matter, there are plenty in our streets, there are plenty in our places of worship, who are thought to be very good and respectable people, who nevertheless indulge in gross vice,— the Lord have mercy upon them! It is even to such that the text says to-night, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” The fornicator, the adulterer, the whoremonger, and such like, these have committed sins that are of a scarlet hue. I say no more about this point; but I mean that such sinners as these are invited to come to God, and seek his mercy, for he will make them white as snow.
There is another set of sins which are scarlet, and these are the universally-condemned sins, those sins which are offences against the State, and against the well-being and social order of the community, such as dishonesty, theft, peculation in all its forms, knavery, cheating, lying. Oh, dear sirs, there are some who talk of white lies; but there are no lies that are white, they are scarlet, and they will sink a man to hell if they are not confessed and forgiven. Every rightminded man is ready to condemn such sins as pride and over-bearing, such sins as ingratitude to parents and treachery to friends, such sins as breaking solemn covenants and sacred engagements where one ought to have been firmly held by them; all these are scarlet sins. Some of the forms of transgression, which I shall not describe in detail, are condemned by all civilized society, and therefore they may certainly be called scarlet sins. If I speak to any here present who have been guilty of such sins, let each man wear the cap that fits him; but let him also hear this gracious word, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet,” and that point is admitted, “they shall be as white as snow.”
There is another set of sins that I would put down as scarlet, because they are the louder defiances of God. Some men dare to contradict Scripture, to express their disbelief in it, nay, to contradict God himself, even to express their disbelief in his existence; and, disbelieving in God, they dare to cavil at his providence, to judge his words, and to utter criticisms and sarcasms about the acts of the Most High. Now, these are scarlet sins. Let me once know that anything is of God, and I bow my head in deepest reverence. “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” But there are plenty, nowadays, who seem to enter into the lists against Jehovah, and begin to ask him why he acts as he does, as if they were the very God of God and the Judge of the Most High. Now these are committing scarlet sins; yet the Lord says even to such sinners that he will make them as white as snow, and in many cases he has already done so.
I felt great joy, yesterday, when I received a letter from one who is now an earnest servant of God, but who recalled the time (over thirty years ago, I think it was), when he was a secularist, and a very bold denouncer of all religion. At that period, I was but a very young man in preaching; and he showed special spite against me. He put my portrait in his window, with certain exceedingly biting and cutting remarks appended to it; but it happened that he came to London, and he must needs go to hear the man who was the object of his ridicule; and that day, in the Surrey Music Hall, God met with him. I have scarcely heard of him since then, till yesterday, when I found that he was still walking in the faith, earnestly endeavouring to serve God with all his might so as to make amends, as far as lies in his power, for the evil he had done in years gone by. Glory be to God, he can bring in those who have gone furthest in rebellion against him, and make them to be the very noblest defenders of the faith! I remember that John Bunyan said, in his day, that he had great hope for the next generation, and he gave a very curious reason for that hope; he said that there was no age in which there were so many blasphemers and blackguards as were then living, and he reckoned that, if God saved them, they would make the finest saints in the world , and he therefore hoped that the next generation would be far ahead of any that ever had been before because that generation was so far behind in morality any that had preceded it. God does often take the raw material of a great sinner, and transform him by his grace into a great saint. Such a man loves much because he has had much forgiven. Scarlet sinners, then, are those God-defiers who will not have him to reign over them, and who tell him so to his face. These are they who, when they come to Christ, shall find that he will make them as white as snow.
Scarlet sins, again, may consist in long-continued dissipations. I do not like drawing these terrible pictures; but I cannot help it if I am to be faithful. There are some men who, having the means, will go into sins from which the poor are happily preserved,— drink and debauchery, followed up month after month, and year after year. Sin is persevered in as though the men were resolved to be ruined, going over hedge and ditch to hell; stopped, perhaps, for a moment, by an earnest address, but shaking off all good impressions with an awful determination to go on to their eternal destruction. We know some such, who do not occasionally fall into sin, but who continue in it, whose life becomes, as far as they can make it, a series of rebellions against everything that is pure, and true, and right. Do I address any such young man or any such woman to-night? If so, you are a scarlet sinner; and I commend to you this gracious text, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
This scarlet glaringness is also seen in repeated transgressions. When a man sins once, and then abandons the sin, one does not think so much of it as of those who, having sinned once, sin again, and again, and again, and again, and again. Oh, that poor moth, it comes into my study, and flies at my lamp! It has burnt its wings, and it falls down. I endeavour to catch it, to put it away; but before I can reach it, up it flies again at the lamp. It has burnt itself worse this time, it is in anguish with that scorched wing; but the moment that it can summon strength enough, it flies up again. And there are some people just like that, singed and burnt by their own iniquity, yet returning to it, as the dog returns to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. Now, a sinner cannot act like that without colouring his sin to a very high degree with scarlet, and making it most offensive to God; yet, if it be so with any of you, the Lord still bids you come to him, and he will make you as white as snow.
Once more, I think that the scarlet hue will be discovered in any act of sin which is distinctly deliberate. There are sins into which men are hurried by strong passions in a moment, and these are grievous enough; but when a man will take a week, a month, or even longer, to concoct some evil scheme, arranging all the details, laying traps, setting snares, spinning webs, to effect an evil purpose, this is a scarlet sin. When the element of deliberation enters into sin, it becomes a crime of malice aforethought, for which it is hard to find mercy. Yet I venture to say that, if anyone here has been guilty of such a sin, and it comes to his mind just now, I would urge him to confess it, and come to the Lord for forgiveness, for he says, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” This is the top and bottom of the whole matter. O ye scarlet sinners, the greatness of your guilt need not keep you back from God! O ye who have transgressed beyond all bearing, and past all bounds, you may yet be forgiven! God is able to blot all your sin out in a moment, so that there shall be nothing in his book against you, and the scarlet shall become as white as snow.
Do you want to know how this can be done? It is through the great atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, his Son, who, on Calvary’s mountain, bore the wrath of God in our place and stead, that God might be able with justice to forgive the sins of all men who trust in Christ’s atonement. Understand, then, that is the method of making scarlet sinners as white as snow; the bleeding Saviour, and he alone, performs this miracle of mercy. This is true; and if you will come, and seek your God, confessing your sin, and accepting the great sacrifice of Christ, your scarlet sin shall cease to be, and you shall become as white as snow.
Oh, this is the best news that ever tongue had to tell; but when I get home to-night, I shall lie abusing myself to think that I did not tell it better! I never tell out the story of free grace and dying love to my heart’s content; the thought comes to me afterwards, “Why did you not put it better? Why did you let those people come and go, and not speak more to their hearts?” Ah, dear friends, I would do so if I knew how; but I have scarcely begun to learn to preach yet as I want to! Still, I do tell this old, old story to you great sinners, you crimson sinners; if you trust Jesus, your sins shall not damn you; if you come to Christ, your sins shall be all put away forever. It is your unbelief, your keeping away from God, your continuance in sin, that will destroy you; but not the greatness of your guilt hitherto, for the Lord is willing to blot out your sins like a cloud, and to do it now, if you will only trust his dear Son.
II. But I must not forget that there is a second difficulty. The man of whom I first spoke also says, “MY TENDENCY TO SIN IS DEEPLY INGRAINED.”
He says, “If all my scarlet sins were forgiven, yet I am afraid I should not be all right even then.” Why not? “Because,” he says, “I feel impulses within me towards evil which, I think, are stronger than in anybody else.” Well, friend, I will take you on your own ground; I do believe that there are some persons who have a greater hereditary tendency to some sins than others have. It is unquestionably true that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. Anybody who studies human nature cannot help discovering that the child of the drunkard has a greater tendency to drink than the child of the sober man; and children born as the result of lust are more inclined to that vice than others, who are the offspring of virtuous, godly people. It is no doubt so; but what I have to say to you is that, if you have sprung from an ancestry of drunkards, if right straight up you cannot find a good man in all your pedigree, still, though your sins be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. God knows how to effect this transformation by the working of the Holy Spirit. Is that a new word to you? Well, then, let me remind you that the Holy Spirit is the third glorious Person of the blessed Trinity in Unity; and the Holy Spirit can come and remove from you the taint of heredity, so that you shall be able to overcome this special tendency of yours, and shall be preserved from those sins which run in your blood, which are in your constitution through your birth. God can help you. He that made the watch can mend it. He that made you can set you right again: you are still within the reach of divine omnipotence, whoever your father or your mother may have been. I take you on your own ground, not discussing the question with you for a moment.
“Oh!” says another, “I should not mind about hereditary tendencies; but my difficulty is that I have been habitually committing sin.” And oh, I do admit, my dear brother or sister, that it is an awful thing to get caught in the meshes of an evil habit! When you first sin, or after you have sinned a few times, it is like a cobweb all around you, and you cannot easily get clear of it; but that cobweb soon comes to be a cord-net, and it is not easy to cut your way out of it; but, after a time, the cords become bands of iron and steel; and what are you to do then? How can you break loose from such chains? The habitual drunkard, how shall he tear himself away from the cup that is ruining him? The man who has fallen into vicious habits, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” If so, then he that is accustomed to do evil may learn to do well. But the Holy Spirit will help you to break off every sinful habit at once. I have known him do it with many. I have especially noticed this, that swearers,— and it is somewhat curious to note this fact,— men who had for years never spoken without an oath, when they have been converted, from that moment they have never been tempted to utter an oath during the rest of life, such clean riddance can the Holy Spirit make of that habit. Some other sins cleave to a man, and make their presence felt at times; but when the Holy Spirit comes in, he drives out these old habits, and forms new ones. “The expulsive power of a new affection” is very great; and when the Spirit of God puts the love of Christ into the soul in the place of the love of sin, that new affection drives out the old habits, and the man is set free even from sins in which he has long indulged.
You know that scarlet and crimson are colours very hard to get out of any fabric. Neither the dew, nor the rain, nor any ordinary processes of bleaching, will get out the scarlet. I have heard that certain old rags cannot be used for anything except making red blotting-paper, because you cannot get out the colour which the material takes in; and as to anything crimson, you might destroy the fabric before you could possibly extract the dye. But God knows how, without destroying the fabric, to take out a fifty years’ crimson habit, and not leave a stain behind. He can make you perfectly pure and clean. He can make you a new man; your flesh shall be as the flesh of a little child; I mean, that your whole conduct will prove that you have been born again.
I heard a third person say, “But, my dear sir, the trouble with me is that I have such feeble mental resistance to evil, I am so weak, such a poor fool.” Well, you are not much of a fool if you know you are; the biggest fools are those who never know that they are fools. Still, there are people of this kind. I will try to describe you. You really are not altogether a bad sort of fellow, and when you are convinced that a thing is wrong, you feel very sorry, and you say to yourself, “I will give that up.” But there is a certain individual who has a kind of key that fits you, and whenever he comes this way, he winds you up just as he likes. I do not know who the individual is; perhaps it is a “she”, not a “he”; but, whoever it is can turn you any way. You are such a silly sort of person that if two or three people come round you, and try to get you to do what is wrong, you cannot say, “No,” to them. You have not learnt that little word yet; your mother did not teach it to you, and your schoolmaster did not teach it to you, and I am afraid that I cannot teach you to say, “No.” It is a very difficult word for some people to utter. They say, “N-n-n,” and it ends in— “Yes.” The power to say, “No,” is a mighty power; and it is an awful thing when a man has fallen into ways of sin, when he is weak and irresolute, and somebody twists him whichever way he pleases. Now, dear friend, if you will come and reason with God, and yield yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit, as I pray you may, he will put a backbone into you, he will make you resolute and firm. I have known some young men, who at first quite pained me with their want of resolution, but who, by the grace of God, have become almost doggedly obstinate. Oh, what grand old Puritans some men have made who once had no will of their own! We want the Lord, nowadays, to make a lot of people with backbones; very few of that kind have appeared lately, but he can make them by his grace. Oh, you molluscous young fellow, you who have no more strength in you than a snail out of its shell, God’s grace can make a real man of you, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free, and you shall be able to stand up and say, “No,” and you will even—
“Dare to be a Daniel!
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known!”
God will help you to do even that if you yield yourself to him.
Still, perhaps, I have not quite hit the nail on the head with all of you. Some are entangled by their circumstances. A man says, “You do not know me, sir, or else you would not think that the grace of God could save me. In my trade, my business, my position in life, I am dreadfully entangled; I do not know how I am to get out of it, I am in such a position that I must earn my bread. You know, sir, we must live.” I never was very clear about that statement; but this person says, “We must live, and I am in such a predicament that I do not know what to do. I know I ought not to be in such a position; but I cannot get free from it.” No, my friend, but God’s grace can deliver you. Oh, I have seen, in this house of prayer, some glorious instances that I hardly dare to tell! I know one, whom the Lord saved, and he was engaged in a business which I could not but regard as altogether destructive to the souls of men and women; but he said that he could not see how to get out of it, yet he did get out of it. He suffered bravely, and at this moment I should say that he is in a very much better position than he was in then; and if he had kept on with the other business, I believe he would have been ruined body and soul, and that he would also have ruined thousands of others. There is nothing like making up your mind that you are coming right straight out from everything that is wrong, let it cost whatever it may. “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The ship is going down, and if your little boat is tied to it, you will go down, too. Up with the axe, and cut the rope! When God, by his grace, helps you to act thus, as he can and will do, the entanglement of your circumstances will be over. I do not know the particular case to which I am alluding just now; I often speak of things which God knows more about than I do, and somebody is here to whom this is a message from him. Come out, come out, at all costs. Flee from Sodom, leave everything, look not behind you, stay not in all the plain, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed!
I think that I hear another say, “But I am a man of such strong passions.” Yes, there are wild beasts about in the form of men; and every now and then we come across a man with a terrible temper. He means well, dear soul; he is always very sorry after he has had an outburst. Sometimes he says, “Well, I boil over, you know, sir; but it is all over in a minute.” Yes, but if you scald somebody, the effect of that scalding will not be all over in a minute. “Ay!” said a certain Scotch laird to his servant, “You see, Sandy, I am never in a bad temper but what I am soon right again.” “Ay!” said the servant, “and you are never right again but you are soon in another bad temper.” Well, that is an evil thing which has to be conquered. You cannot carry such a temper as that into heaven. What would they do with you there with such fiery passions? They must be got rid of; and I do not know of any surgical operation that can do it; you will have to be born again, that is the only real cure. Then there are some other individuals who appear to be going on all right for months, when an awful wind seems to blow through their souls, and off they go into drinking, or into some other dreadful sin, and they say that it is all owing to their strong passions. Well, you cannot take those passions to heaven, can you? You will have to get rid of them if you are ever to enter there; and I know of no remedy for this evil but being born again. Remember this text, “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
“Do you believe in the doctrine of original sin?” asks one. Yes, I do; it is about the only original thing some people have, and they have a large quantity of that. Yes, yes, it is so, alas! There is in us all the tendency to sin, the bias towards evil; and though I have been drawing distinctions, I must come back to this point,—
“Like sheep we went astray,
And broke the fold of God;
Each wandering in a different way,
But all the downward road.”
Now, there is no help against original sin but almighty grace, and there is no way of having almighty grace except through the free gift of God. This he may give as he pleases, for he has a right to bestow it or to withhold it; but he promises to give it to all who come humbly confessing their sin, and casting themselves, by faith, upon Jesus Christ, his Son.
Thus, you see, I have shown you that the guilt of sin can be put away by the blood of Jesus, and the power of sin can be subdued by the Holy Ghost. Every provision is made for the salvation of the man who desires to be saved. Come then, and hear how God has met your difficulties: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” God bless you all, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.