The Errand of Mercy

Charles Haddon Spurgeon July 25, 1907 Scripture: Luke 19:10 From: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Volume 53

No. 3050
A Sermon Published on Thursday, July 25, 1907,
Delivered by C.H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington,
During the Year 1863

 “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” — Luke 19:10.

GOD came down from heaven but once to be united with human flesh. On what errand did he come, and who were the objects of it? What messenger was sent on that errand? What method was pursued by him? With what success was it attended? Our text gives us the information: “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Let us speak briefly upon these four points.

I. First, AS TO THE OBJECT OF CHRIST’S ERRAND: “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

That word “lost” is constantly applied by desponding and despairing persons to themselves. Such people say, “We are lost, — we feel that we are lost, wholly lost; there is no hope for us.” Herein they betray both their ignorance and their unbelief; — their ignorance, for to be lost is nothing so peculiar that they should claim to be heritors of a strange doom, since the whole human race is lost; and their unbelief, since Christ came specially to seek and to save the lost. Therefore, their being lost is not a ground for despair, but may be construed into a ground of hope. Let us think over that word “lost”, and see in what sense those are lost whom Christ came to save.

Christ came to save those who were lost hereditarily. You often hear people say, “Man is in a state of probation.” No such thing; there is no man now in a state of probation. Adam was in a state of probation, and man in Adam was in a state of probation in the garden so long as he stood in obedience to the test that was given. He was upon his trial; but the moment that Adam tasted of the forbidden fruit, the probation was over, he was a lost man; and our probation was over too, for we were lost in him. Man, in this world, is either in a state of condemnation or a state of salvation. “He that believeth not” is not in a state of probation; he is “condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” We have divine authority for this. A man who has believed in Jesus is not in a state of probation, for “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,” and, “beloved, now are we the sons of God.” The fact is, that we are all absolutely lost through the sin of Adam, and we need a revelation to show us that we are absolutely saved in the righteousness of Christ. It is not a question whether I shall fall or no; I have fallen in Adam. “By one man’s disobedience,” says the apostle, “many were made sinners.” I stood in Adam as long as he stood; but when Adam fell, he so represented me, and all my kith and kin, that I fell in him, and fell so as to be hopelessly and forever lost, if Jesus Christ had not stepped in “to seek and to save that which was lost.”

We are lost, again, in another sense; we are lost naturally. It. is supposed, by some, that man has it now in his power to choose his own character, and so become the arbiter of his own destiny; that his nature is, at first, in such a state of equilibrium that he can select either the strait and narrow path of rectitude, or pursue the broad road which leads to destruction. Nay, my dear friends, both Scripture and experience teach us otherwise. We are born with natures that incline towards that which is evil, and never of themselves tend towards that which is good. “Behold,” says David, “I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Well did Job ask, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.” How, then, can he be pure who is born of a woman who is herself sinful? How can we, who are impure, be the parents of pure children? Such a thing is not possible. The whole head of human nature is sick, and the whole heart faint. Naturally, from our very birth we go astray, speaking lies. There is written upon human nature, by the finger of our first parent, this word, “Lost!” — lost to God, therefore lost to the virtuous exercise of the affections and the true balance of the judgment, lost to rectitude, the will lost to obedience, the mental vision lost as to a sight of God, the moral sense lost as to that proper sensibility of conscience by which it shall stand out against sin. The reigning power in man is dislodged from its place; manhood’s glory, his victory and integrity, lost, lost forever, unless some greater Man shall restore it. This is how we truthfully describe the whole human race; and so, surely, those whom Christ came to save were hereditarily and naturally lost.

Among these, there are some so totally lost to all feeling that they do not know they are lost. Even the preaching of the gospel does not suffice to bring them to a consciousness of their condition. Their conscience has become seared, and their heart hardened by perversity in sin. If they once knew what it was to tremble at the wrath to come, that time is past. Even the wooings of divine mercy fall upon them as oil would fall upon marble, and run off without producing any effect. They wish they could feel; they envy souls that despair, and wish that they could themselves despair. They despair, however, of ever being able to get into a good enough state of heart to despair. “If aught is felt,” say they, “ ‘tis only pain to find we cannot feel,” and not much of that is felt. Now, even such Jesus Christ came to save; and we know this, because such were some of us. Do not I recollect the time when I would have given my eyes for a tear, and would have been willing to suffer anything if I could have but bent my knee, and uttered one groan? But my heart would not yield a sigh or my eyes a tear. I turned to the Book of God, but that did not move me. I listened to the preacher without emotion. It seemed as if even a dying Savior’s groans could never move a heart so base as mine, and yet I bear witness that Christ came to save such, for I do myself rejoice in his salvation. You who are lost to all feeling may well catch at this text, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Then there are others who are lost to all hope. It is in vain that you pray with them. They rise up from their knees, and thank you for your prayers, but they are assured that God will never hear them. They do themselves sometimes pray, necessity drives them to their knees; but they pray with the conviction that they are merely talking to a God whose mind is made up about them, and determined to cast them forever from his presence; comforts that are available to others are of no use to them. You may adroitly seek to adjust your consolation so as to suit their case, but they ward off your comfort as skillfully as a warrior guards himself from the enemy’s arrow with his shield. They will not hear a word of comfort, charm you never so wisely. They have made up their minds that there cannot be anything in the Book of God for them except thunder and lightning, and “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.” Ay, and if they had their own names put in the Bible, and a promise appended to their names, they would deny their own names and the promise too. They have come to be in such a state of subjection to that tyrant Unbelief that they say, “Newer shall we have hope; it is impossible that such sinners as we are should ever be partakers of eternal life.” If you ask them the reason of their despair, they cannot always tell you. “No,” they say, “we would not tell any man living what we have done, and what we feel.” In one case, it is some overwhelming sin; in another case, it is having resisted at certain periods the convictions of conscience; or yet again, it is old age, their having been living so long a time in impenitence. They have all different arguments, and none of them are the arguments of truth. They believe Satan’s untruth, that God is not willing to forgive, in preference to God’s own oath: “As I live,” saith the Lord God, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” I do not know how it is that these poor souls manage to get away from such texts as these, — “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men,” — “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin,” — “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them;” and such an one as this, — “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” I say again that I do not know how they escape from the soothing influence of suck words of hope; but they do manage, by some means, to fly from them; and still they hug their chains, and sit in a sort of willful bondage in the darkness of their dungeon. Yet Jesus came to save just such sinners as those, and there are some here, of elastic step and bright eye, who once were “bound in affliction and iron;” but you have been brought out of the valley of the shadow of death, and Christ has broken your bonds asunder. You can now sing praises unto God, and your songs shall testify to others, who were your fellow-captives, that Jesus Christ has come “to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Some, whom Christ saves, are lost socially. Their names are not mentioned in the family now; they would bring such a pang to the mother’s heart, such a flush to the father’s cheek. They could not enter now into any respectable society; they are marked men and marked women. There are some who are lost even before the law of the land. The hand of justice has been laid upon them, and they are held in bonds under the law; it may be that they are even marked as felons. Yet the Son of man has come to seek and to save those who are socially lost. When the gates of society are shut, the gates of mercy are not shut. When man considers the case to be utterly hopeless, and the social outcasts are put into a sort of lazar-house, lest the infection should spread, Jesus walks into the lazar-house, and touches the leper, and says, “Be thou clean.” You may shut them out from yourselves, but not from the Savior. When they have come to their worst, and have run the whole round of dissipation, till they themselves are jaded and sick, still can the Master step in, and whisper into that ear, rendered attentive by pain and sickness, and snatch the fire-brand from the flame, to the glory of his own grace.

Others, whom the Savior doubtless came to save, were, at one time, lost avowedly and determinedly. There have been those who have made a league with Satan, and a covenant with death; they have said, “Turn to God? Never, we will burn first.” They have not only resisted conscience, but they have, as it were, proclaimed war to the knife against God himself. They have called heaven and earth to witness that they were the slaves, of Satan, and had chosen him to be their master, and would serve him to their dying hour; yet their covenant with death has been broken, and their league with hell has been disannulled. God has yet, by mighty grace, made them quite as decidedly his servants as they were once the servants of the evil one. Oh! what hath not grace done, and what can it not still do? Take the word “lost” in the very worst possible sense that you can attach to it, and still my test shall apply to it also: “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Perhaps, of all lost souls, the most miserably lost are those who perish under the sound of the gospel. There are some of you who have been prayed over, and preached at, and wept over year after year, till you seem to be hopeless cases. You yourselves feel that there is a hardness which is begotten in the light of the gospel which is not begotten anywhere else. The same sun which melts wax hardens clay, and it has hardened you after an awful fashion till, now, you really dread to hear the gospel lest you should drift still further away from God. Well, even such lost ones Jesus came to save. I am conscious that my language cannot sufficiently express the extent to which the word “lost” may be applied. Some of you think there is very little difference between you and the damned in hell: they feel the flame; you are waiting for it. You feel that they are undergoing the execution, while you are in the condemned cell; they have heard Christ say,

“Depart, ye cursed;” you feel that you are cursed, though he has not yet said to you, “Depart.” You think (though you think wrongly, let me say,) that your death-warrant has been signed and sealed; you declare that you might as well be banished from this world, for you know that, if you live ever so long, you will live and die without hope and without God. Ah! poor soul! Jesus Christ has come to seek and to save just such sinners as thou art; and I trust that, notwithstanding all thou sayest to the contrary, he has come to seek and to save thee, — even thee.

Such are the woe-begone, objects of this mission of mercy; now let us turn to the Messenger of mercy, — the Savior of the lost.

II. If the lost are to be saved, someone of extraordinary character must come to do it; nay, IF THEY ARE TO BE SOUGHT AND FOUND, THERE MUST BE A SPECIAL MESSENGER.

Ordinary men, if they go to seek the lost ones, soon grow weary in the search. Perhaps they have to seek them where pride does not like to go, or to follow them when their perseverance fails, and their patience cannot endure. It needs a special One to seek the lost; but when the sinner is found, who can save the found one? No human arm is long enough, no human merits strong enough, no human plea prevalent enough; it is delightful, therefore, to read that “the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Who is this Son of man? “Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” Though peerless in dignity, he assumes a humble title with a lowly estate when he condescends to undertake this menial service. Before he came to be the Son of Mary, he was the eternal Son of God. He sat upon the throne of his glory, adored by the spirits which his own hand had made; but he came down from yonder starry sky to seek and save the lost. This proves how full of pity, how condescending, and how kind was God’s eternal Son. Lost one! here is some comfort for thee. If Jesus, from his throne of glory, pitied thee in thy lost estate, and if it is the same pitying One who is come to seek and to save the lost, then is he not the One to find and to save thee?

But remember who he is, “the Son of man;” he gives himself that title, “the Son of man!” He feels as thou feelest; he was tempted in all points like thou art tempted; he never had a single sin of his own, but he bore the sins of many, and he knows what the weight of sin is. You think Christ has forsaken you, and Christ once thought his Father had forsaken him: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” he cried. You are broken in heart; he knows what that means for he said, “Reproach hath broken my heart.” You think that all God’s waves and billows have gone over you; he said they had all gone over him, and in very truth they had. It is not possible that you should have a grief deeper than that which the Savior knew. You cannot plunge lower than he went. What if I say that, though sin is come over you so that you cannot look up, there cannot be so black a cloud of sin between you and God as there was once between the Substitute and the Father, for all the sins of his elect ones rolled like an ocean’s tempest between the God of justice and the Surety who was smitten in our stead. Think of Christ, thou who art lost, as being just such an one as thyself, except in the matter of sin; — poor, having not where to lay his head, destitute, afflicted, and tormented, as much as thou canst be. He is the Son of man! Oh, rest thou upon that tender bosom, and confide in that compassionate heart!

If it were merely that he came from heaven, it would be a proof of love and a token of sympathy, but that is not enough. It is written, “He is come to seek and to save;” here is a proof of his activity. He does not sit still and pity men, does not stand up and propose a plan for them, but he is come to seek and to save them! The angels celebrated his advent when they sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The Son of man is come! They watched him in his journey through the thirty years of his earthly pilgrimage, and they seemed to sing, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save.” But how the song must have deepened, with a wondrous emphasis, when they saw him sweating in Gethsemane great drops of blood, when they saw him bound, and scourged, and tormented by the Roman soldiers, when they saw him bearing the weight of the cross, when they marked him fastened to the accursed tree, pouring out his soul in streams of blood; how they must have felt then that the Son of man was come to seek and to save! Earth heard the note, “The Son of man is come.” Sin heard it, and death heard it; and when the Savior bowed his head upon the cross, there went up a great shout, “The Son of man is come;” and startled hell heard it, when Satan saw those, whom he had expected to be his prey, delivered by the strong arm of the dying Sufferer. Heaven heard it as the peal rolled upward, and angels said, “The Son of man is come to bring up hither that which was lost.” So, then, there is activity in the Savior, and on this you may rely.

I shall say but little more concerning the Savior, except these few thoughts on which you may meditate at your leisure. He, who has come to save the lost, loved sinners from before the foundation of the world, was appointed of God to be their Savior, comes on a divine mission clothed with the Spirit of power, comes with an atoning sacrifice in his hand, comes with a plea in his mouth, the voice of blood, “which speaketh better things than that of Abel,” comes with love beaming from his eyes, and overpowering compassion in his heart, comes not to those who come to him, but to those who cannot come and are afraid to come. The Son of man, none other than he, who said, “I am meek and lowly of heart,” has come to seek and to save the lost.


It does need say, “He is some to save” merely, but “to seek and to save.” It is an astounding thing, and a great proof of human depravity, that men do not themselves seek salvation. They even deny the necessity of it, and would sooner run away than be partakers of it. If you pass by a dispensary in the morning, you will often see the poor outpatients at the door; and when the time comes for the doctor to see them, many will be found waiting in his outer room; but you do not often hear of a doctor who goes out seeking for gratis patients. But my Savior not only cures, but seeks the patients out; and if he did not, he would never have patients, for our sickness is of a kind that never brings men to the Physician, but drives them farther and farther from him.

He is come to seek them; he seeks them by the gospel; tonight he seeks some of you. He seeks them by providence. Sometimes, his rough providences seek them. At other times, the daily mercies of his goodness beckon them to come. He seeks them by the death of their fellows, — a mother’s dying bed, the snatching of a baby to heaven; — all these are the ways in which Jesus is seeking that which was lost. He seeks them effectually by his Spirit. His Spirit comes and reveals to them their darkness, points them to Christ, the true Light; and thus clearly they are found out, just where they are, and stand discovered to themselves in their ruin.

But it is added that he not only came to seek, but to save. “Oh!” saith one, “I don’t need any seeking; I am found. Convinced of my folly, here I sit, and own my sin. I am indeed, sought out, and found, but I need saving.” Now, friend, the Son of man has come to save the lost, as well as to seek them; and he does it in this way, — he saves them from the guilt of past sin. In one moment, as soon as ever the blood of Christ is applied to the conscience, every past sin is gone, and the man is, in God’s sight, as if he had never sinned. Christ puts away iniquity in a moment. The next thing he does is that he kills the power of sin within, and makes the man “a new creature.” He does not merely save him from the guilt of the past, but from the power of sin in the present. If he does not tear up sin by the roots, he at least cuts it down; and sin does not have dominion over us, because we are not under the law, but under grace. The man, who has trembled long, trembles no longer; he who was sinking deeper and deeper in the mire feels that there is a new song in his mouth, and that his goings are established. And as he saves him from the power of sin in the present, so he saves him from future falling. He saves, not only for a year, or for ten years, and then lets men fall, but he finally and completely saves that which was lost. And this one act will enable thee, sinner, to realize all this blessedness, — cast thy guilty soul on him who saves thee. Do this with thy whole heart, and thy sin is blotted out; thy soul is saved, and thou mayest go in peace.

IV. Lastly, let us rejoice in THE SUCCESS OF THIS BLESSED SCHEME.

“The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Does he succeed in what he came to do? He does, thank God! And, in these later times, we live to see how the Master does save that which was lost. The opening of the theatres for the preaching of the Word has been a very blessed thing; the raising up of evangelists, who have gone throughout the land preaching the Word, has been a proof that the Son of man has not ceased to seek and to save. When I look back to eleven years ago, when I commenced my pastorate in London, I recollect that there seemed to be very little care then about the preaching of the Word. We could not then do what we now can, count up some twenty evangelists always going through the country, and all of them in their measure useful men, — I mean such men as Richard Weaver, and Reginald Radcliffe, and Brownlow North, and a great many others, all in their way adapted to the work. It seemed then as if the Church of Christ had given up seeking the lost; but God has raised up one and another for the purpose of preaching the Word, fulfilling this Scripture, that “the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Some say, “If the people want to hear the gospel, let them go to church or chapel; they can always hear the gospel when they like.” That is not Christ’s way; we are to go and seek them. Open-air preaching is a blessed institution; and though you may block up a thoroughfare sometimes, it is better to do that than that the thoroughfare to hell should be crowded. If you can turn a soul from the road to hell, it will not matter though you may turn some passenger in the street out of his way, so that he may have to mire his boots. Midnight services, hunting after the poor sinners in the streets at midnight, the opening of Ragged Schools and Reformatories, — all these things, are the fulfilling of the word, “The Son of man is come to seek that which was lost.”

We know that he seeks; but does he save them? If I must give an answer from my own observation, I can point to many members of this congregation, and say, “Save them? Indeed he does! Has he not delivered them from the bonds of sin? Has he not made them new creatures in Christ Jesus?” But if you look anywhere, wherever a faithful gospel is preached, you will see that salvation-work does go on. I hope it may go on with us for many and many a year, until Christ shall come. Christ is not disappointed in the souls he came to save. All for whom he stood as Substitute shall sing his praise in heaven. He has not redeemed souls that may afterwards be cast into hell. He did not suffer for my sins that I might suffer for them too. His atonement is effectual. Every sinner he died to save he does save. He is not foiled at any point, nor disappointed in any single aim. The lost he came to seek and save, he finds and saves; and, in eternity, we shall find, when turning over the register of the chosen, that every one of them has been gathered around the eternal throne, singing the praise of his sovereign grace.