The Smoke of their Torments
“And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord: and he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.”—Genesis 19:27-28.
EARLY in the morning Abraham sought that favoured spot where but yesterday God had been pleased to manifest himself, and where he had been favoured with a season of extraordinary communion. Whither should the believer go, but to that choice place, dear to his heart, where he has communed with the Lord?
“Who that knows the worth of prayer,
But wishes to be often there?”
It is a high privilege, the highest which mortals can enjoy, to talk with God, to pleaa with him, to use arguments, and to prevail. Such grace had Abraham found. No marvel that he goes back to the place where God had thus drawn nigh to him. Doubtless one reason why he rose early, and went to the place, and looked towards Sodom, was an anxious desire to know how his prayers had speeded. You remember he put a last “peradventure” to the Lord: “Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake.” He hopes, perhaps, that he needs not go any further. He stops, for he feels sure in his heart that there must be ten righteous there; he turns his eye to the quarter of the horizon where Sodom and Gomorrah should stand. So, when you have prayed, look out for answers Elijah said to his servant, “Go, and look towards the sea:” so say you to your hopes, “Go, and look towards the sea.” If you have asked for rain, expect a cloud; if you have sought a mercy, expect that God will stretch out his hand, and bestow it upon you. But God does not always answer his children’s prayers just as they would desire. Besides, his children are sometimes slack in asking, and hence it is they do not get what they would. So Abraham, as he looked towards Sodom: instead of seeing the verdant well-watered watered plain, and the fanes and spires of the city, saw nothing but black smoke, and a lurid glare going up to heaven like the smoke of a furnace. It is remarkable that he does not appear to have observed the storm as it came down from heaven. Hence we may infer how rapid the destruction of the cities must have been. God rained fire out of heaven upon Sodom: it seems to have been done in a moment; the whole plain was destroyed; and all that Abraham saw after he rose up, which was probably just at the sunrise, was merely the smoke that followed the conflagration. So does God drive his enemies away. As wax is melted before the fire, as the smoke is driven before the wind, so doth the enemy perish before the breath of God, when he comes forth out of his hiding-place to punish sin. Can you now picture to yourselves the reverent patriarch, as he leans upon his staff, and looks with wondering gaze towards the smoking furnace? What must have been his thoughts? What a spectacle for him to gaze upon, from the very spot where he had held communion with God! Perhaps he could not have looked upon it from any other spot. He would have been too much afraid, too full of trembling; but there he felt himself safe. Standing where the Lord had talked with him, he felt secure; and he could look even into that lurid glare and that terrible blackness without dismay. And now I want to summon you, my dear Christian friends, to the scene of your own most hallowed privileges; to the spot, as it were, on which grace has been shown most clearly to your souls, and intercessions have been poured out most freely from your hearts. From thence I would have you lift up your eyes. To what, do you ask, would I draw your attention? Ah! then, I want you to look upon the smoke of the torments of lost spirits. I want believing eyes to gaze upon that place, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Only mind that you stand in the place where God has communed with you, beneath the cross, where the blood shall drop upon you, and you shall feel the sense of pardoned sin. From no other place can we view the wrath of God with proper and profitable emotions. But standing there, our spirits shall be chastened, our souls comforted, and with tears standing in our eyes, tears of gratitude and contrition, we shall venture to look upon that dark and terrible gulf where the wicked lie, and shall derive some profit from the sight, even as Abraham doubtless did.
First, then, to-night, let me suggest the emotions which should be awakened in the Christian's spirit, when he takes a view of the wrath to come; secondly, let me gather up some lessons which God teaches to His people, and to the world from the doom of the wicked; and then, in closing, let me turn your eyes another way to a yet more wonderful display of divine vengeance, even more wonderful, I say, than that which is to be perceived in Tophet, where lost souls are shut up.
I. WITH WHAT EMOTIONS OUGHT WE TO GAZE UPON THE TORMENTS OF UNGODLY AND IMPENITENT SOULS?
Certainly it should always be with an humble submission to the divine will. The assurance that God is just, even in the midst of his hot displeasure, must ever be cherished. The Judge of all the earth cannot but do right. Though he is terrible and dreadful in his anger, as a consuming fire, yet is he still our God for ever and ever, full of goodness and full of truth. There is a deep-seated unbelief among Christians just now, about the eternity of future punishment. It is not outspoken in many cases, but it is whispered; and it frequently assumes the shape of a spirit of benevolent desire that the doctrine may be disproved. I fear that at the bottom of all this there is a rebellion against the dread sovereignty of God. There is a suspicion that sin is not, after all, so bad a thing as we have dreamed. There is an apology, or a lurking wish to apologise for sinners, who are looked upon rather as objects of pity than as objects of indignation, and really deserving the condign punishment which they have wilfully brought upon themselves. I am afraid it is the old nature in us putting on the specious garb of charity, which thus leads us to discredit a fact which is as certain as the happiness of believers. Shake the foundations upon which the eternity of hell rests, and you have shaken heaven's eternity too. “These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” There is precisely the same word in the original. We have it translated a little more strongly in our version, but the word stands the same; and if the one be not eternal, the other is not. Brethren, this is a fearful thing. Who can meditate upon the place appointed for the wicked without a shudder? Ungodly men affect to think we like to preach upon these topics. Far, far enough is it from being the case. I have had to censure myself of late for scarcely having preached at all upon them. They fancy that Christian men can look with complacency upon the torment of the lost, imagining themselves to be safe. They know not what they say. The very reverse of such a spirit is common among us. We shudder so much at the thought of men being cast away for ever, and horror takes so strong a hold upon us, that if we could doubt it, we would; and if we could disprove it altogether, we feel we should be glad. But we dare not attempt the task, because we know that it were to impugn the sentence of the Almighty, and provoke a quarrel against the Most High. Great Judge of all! thou shalt trample upon thine enemies in the day of thy wrath; yet shalt thou be as glorious in that act as when thou dost pardon sin, and pass by transgression. Christian, look there, and, as thou lookest, rebel not, but say, “True and righteous art thou, O God; let thy name be honoured evermore!”
Surely, too, another emotion, which a glance towards the dreary doom of the ungodly can never fail to prompt, is that of gratitude. “And why am I not there? They gnaw their fire-tormented tongues in vain: and why am I not there? Did they sin? I have sinned. Did they curse God and die? I, too, have cursed God; and it was a marvel that I did not die.
‘Oh, were it not for grace divine,
That fate so dreadful had been mine.’”
Some of you who were accustomed to frequent the ale-house e, whose voices were loud in the lascivious song, who polluted eventide with sin, and spoiled the day with your ungodliness, thank God that you have been washed in the precious blood of Jesus; for as you read the list of the lascivious, and so on, you are compelled to say, “Such were some of us; but we are washed, but we are sanctified, but we are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Let the depths of hell constrain you to heights of gratitude; and let the wailing and the gnashing of teeth which come up from thence, appeal to your lips, your heart, your very bowels, and all that is within you, for the music of thankfulness that you have escaped.
Should there not also here be deep feelings of humility? Look to the hole of the pit whence thou wast digged, and the rock whence God hath hewn thee! What those sinners were, such wert thou. There was nothing in thee that would carry thee to heaven, but everything that would have carried thee down to hell. Thou art a brand plucked from the burning; thou wouldst have burned in that fire as well as others; and canst thou lift up thy head, man, and boast thyself, and say, “O God, I thank thee that I am not as other men”? Nay, not if thou art in thy senses; but humbled and yet thankful, thou wilt go thy way with a subdued heart, looking upon others with pity and with love, and anxiously desiring to pluck them also from the flame, and guide their feet into the way of peace.
And there is a sensation which must thrill through every nerve, and the thought will sometimes blanch our cheeks with terror, lest we also should come thither. Methinks a glance of the eye towards the smoke of Gehenna would always prompt a holy jealousy over one's own heart, and a diligent watchfulness of one’s own walk. What sayest thou to this, professor? Thou seest the smoke going up for ever: what if thou shouldst come there after all? Remember, it is one thing to profess to be a Christian, and quite another thing to be truly converted. You may go to the gates of heaven by profession; but there is a back door to hell. High professor, take care. If thy wings be waxen they will melt; and the higher they soar, the greater thy fall will be. It will be a drear day for any of us, if we have to go from the pulpit to perdition, from the Lord’s table to communion with devils, and from drinking the cup in which we commemorate the sacrifice of Christ to the drinking of the cup of trembling, in which the dregs of God's wrath are to be found. If I must perish, I would rather perish as an openly-avowed sinner than as a hypocrite: for the doom of a man who has made a fair show in the flesh and a fine pretence of godliness, must be increased by the loss which he suffers, the hopes which are disappointed, the professions which have turned out to be a lie. Members of this Church, I speak to you, hoping that you will put the question among yourselves, “Is it I, Lord? Is it I?” My fellow labourers in this Church, deacons and elders, let us search ourselves. Let not your grey heads exempt you from the duty of self-examination. Let not your office screen you from the suspicion that after all you may be deceived. Come, let us go together as if we never went before to the cross of Jesus; let us look up to him as he hangs bleeding there, and if up to this moment we never have been saved, let us say, “Jesus, accept us now.”
“A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall:
Be thou my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus and my all.”
These at least are some of the feelings with which we, like Abraham, standing in the place where God hath communed with us, may look towards Sodom and see the smoke going up as the smoke of a furnace. We shall pause awhile, and then notice the teaching which seems to come from the dreadful doctrine of the wrath to come.
II. Look thou, Christian, if thou canst look, and see there THE EVIL OF SIN.
Dost thou start? That is the true harvest of the sowing of iniquity. Come, sinner, I charge thee look at it. This is what sin brings forth; this is the full-grown child. Thou hast dandled it; thou hast kissed and fondled it; see what it comes to. Hell is but sin full-grown, that is all. Thou playedst with that young lion; see how it ravens and how it tears in pieces now that it has come to its strength. Didst thou not smile at the azure scales of the serpent? see its poison; see to what its stings have brought those who have never looked to the brazen serpent for healing. Next time the enemy saith to thee, “Is it not a little one?” answer him, “Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth;” remind him that the mustard is the smallest among seeds, but yet it groweth to a great tree. Is it so? Do ye account of sin as a peccadillo, a flaw scarcely to be noticed, a mere joke, a piece of fun? But see the tree which springs from it. There is no joke there—no fun in hell. Fools make a mock at sin, which is but an egg; but when the egg is hatched and the bird full fledged, they will find that they must laugh on the other side of their mouths, if they laugh at all. My God, from this day forward help me to see through the thin curtain which covers up sin, and whenever Satan tells me that such-and-such a thing is for my pleasure, let me recollect the pain of that penalty wrapt up in it; when he tells me that such a thing is for my profit, let me know that it can never profit me to gain the whole world and lose my own soul. Let me feel it is no sport to sin, for only a madman would scatter firebrands and death, and say it is sport. You did not know that sin was so evil. Some of you will never know how evil it is till the sweetness of honey hath passed from your mouth, and the bitterness of death preys at your vitals; you will count it harmless till you are hopelessly stricken with its sting. What, is there no way to teach you the evil of sin but to cast you into hell to learn the lesson, where you cannot profit but only perish by the knowledge acquired too late? O that ye were wise, ye thoughtless ones, and looking at the smoke of the ruin of others, would learn how dreadful is that sin which will ere long ruin you, as it has already ruined them. Think you that God smote Sodom, and that he will not smite you? Drunkard, swearer, shall Gomorrah perish and shall you escape? No, he is the same God to-day to punish sin as he was then. I say, see the blackness of your sin by the light of hell's fire, and as the smoke goes up for ever, ask thyself wilt thou sin when such is the inevitable result? Wilt thou dwell with sin, if this involves dwelling with tormenting fire? This doctrine I would God we could learn in our hearts. It is hard for me to preach it, it is harder still for you to learn it; but none ever know the love of Christ till they know something of the evil of sin.
As the Christian, with downcast and blushing face looks to the place where their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched, he is awe-struck with the justice of God. What, is God so just as this? He swears, “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, but had rather that he should turn unto me and live.” He is a God so good that he delighteth in mercy, and never is his soul more glad than when he passes by transgression, iniquity, and sin, and receives his Ephraims to his bosom. But is this God so severely just? Shall men, made in his own image, be broken by him as with a rod of iron. Will he consign them to that Tophet, the pile whereof is fire and much wood? Shall the ire of the Almighty be the flame that kindles it? Can he be a God of love and yet treat sinners thus? Then how awfully just must God be. How stem this attribute of unimpeac peachable justice! Some talk of God as though mercy were the sole quality of the divine character, and he had no other attribute; but the God of Scripture is to be adored in every attribute by which he is revealed. “God is love.” But know ye, that his justice shall beam forth with ineffable splendour, when he whets his glittering sword, and saith aith, “Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies.” My God, when he came on Sinai, touched the mountains and they smoked; coals of fire went before him. He did ride upon the wings of the wind. Thick darkness was round about him. His voice was thunder and he spake in lightning. Even Moses did exceedingly fear and quake. What will he be when he comes to punish for offences if he is thus dreadful when he comes merely to give the law? May you never know the weight of the eternal arm when it shall come down upon a guilty conscience. May we never feel in body and in soul how strict, how severe, how unflinching is that mighty God who has unsheathed his sword for ever and bathed it in heaven, and made this as his solemn oath that he will by no means spare the guilty, but will cut them off root and branch, and destroy them for ever. Admire the justice of God. Muse upon it much. Think with what solemn pomp it shall be vindicated. Oh! what a holocaust of victims shall burn for ever in attestation of its majesty! Let thy soul be humbled, boast no more, bow at his feet, submit thyself. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.”
Another lesson now comes to us, and one which I hope will be more pleasing, and affect some minds that may not be moved by what we have hitherto said. Looking at the destruction of the wicked, this reflection crosses our minds. We, his people, have been redeemed from destruction! What a price must that have been which redeemed us from such woe and rescued us from such a place of torment! You have learned from this pulpit the doctrine of substitution, how the Lord Jesus Christ took the sins of his people and stood to suffer in their place and stead. We do not say that Christ endured the hell of his people, the precise torment which his people ought to have suffered, but we do say upon scriptural warrant, that Christ endured a pain and agony which was tantamount and accepted by God as the proper substitute for all the griefs which were due to the sins of his people. Who can form an idea of what the torment of one soul must be that is cast away for ever; not, remember, the torment of an hour, a day, a month, a year, a century, a thousand years, but for ever—for ever! You cannot measure that; but you will have to multiply that by ten thousand times ten thousand when you recollect that Jesus laid down his life for many, and gave himself a ransom for his sheep. Nor are these a few, but a great multitude which no man can number. Well did the Psalmist say, as he typified the Messiah, “All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” One soul that is lost cannot feel all the waves and billows, but Jehovah Jesus did. None but a God could bear what he endured. Beneath that ocean of tremendous fire, the mighty substitute bowed his majestic head—that very head which heaven worshipped, and which is crowned with everlasting splendour—bowed himself in the great baptism of almighty wrath that the waves of swelling grief might roll over it; yea, every wave, and every drop of every wave of divine wrath that was due to his people. Think, think, Christian, as thou hearest that solemn trampling, as thou hearest the wailing of the lost, as thine eyes seek to penetrate that land of death, as thy whole soul is alarmed with gloomy forebodings of that wrath, think what must have been in the tremendous cup— the hells of all his people, not actually, but virtually condensed into the pangs of an hour. He did but drink it, and all his veins were flushed with hot blood. Every nerve became a high-road for the hot chariots of pain to drive along. He cried, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” It was not possible; he set it to his lips, he drank, he drank right on; his back was scourged, but still he drank. His head was pierced with the thorn-crown, but he took not away his lips. The spittle flowed down his cheeks; they were black with the bruising of mailed fists. Reproach had broken his heart, and shame had covered his face, but on, still on he drank. They pierced his hands and his feet; they offered him vinegar; they rent away his clothes; they stripped him naked; they left him without a comforter. Devils surrounded him with mockery, and men with scorn; but on, still on, he drank, O blessed Saviour, till at the last he had swallowed every bitter drop, and turning the chalice upside down, not so much as one black drop trembled on its brim, for—
"At one tremendous draught of love,
He drained destruction dry.”
For every one of his people he exhausted the cup, and there was not a pang, nor a grief, nor a penal groan left for any one of his elect. He suffered, the just for the unjust, that he might bring them to God. Here is a plummet to fathom the depths of the Saviour's griefs; but who can throw the lead, and who can tell when it strikes the bottom! God only knows the griefs of his dear Son. Even lost spirits can scarcely guess it; and oh! as you look into that smoke, ascending for ever and ever, say, “Hallelujah, Jesus! for thou hast redeemed us unto God by thy blood, and we shall reign for ever and ever.”
That fearful vision which beclouds my eyes and makes them feel heavy, at the same time presses upon me with a tremendous weight, while I mention another truth. Behold here the solemnity of the gospel ministry, the responsibility of those who listen to it, and the need there is for earnestness in handling divine things. Have I to deal with immortal souls? Then let me not trifle. Have I to talk with men who must spend eternity in heaven or in hell? Then wake up, thou sluggish flesh, and bear not down my spirit; and thou, my soul, be thou stirred up to the highest degree of intensity of love, and of earnest devotedness, that men may be by some means, or by any means, brought to escape from the wrath to come. I would to God I could preach as Baxter did. That man, the victim of many diseases, but sane and healthy in his mind, said he never came to his pulpit without tears and his knees knocking together, for he had to speak for God with men who must soon appear before his bar, and he himself must appear there too, to give an account of his preaching to them. O sirs, it is perhaps but a matter of amusement for some of you to come on a Sabbath evening into this place, or any other; but believe us, it is no matter of amusement for us who have to preach to you. We would not have accepted our office if it had not been thrust upon us. Woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; but if we do preach the gospel, still terrors sieze hold upon us; for our heart is ready to break when we think how the multitude reject that gospel, and go their way to their farms and their merchandise, and will not come to the gospel-supper to be fed. Preaching will seem dreadful work to the preacher when he comes to die, if he has not been faithful; and it will not seem slight work to you when you come to die, if you have heard in vain. What would you give for another Sabbath, for another invitation to hear those faithful sermons once more, to be moved by love divine once more? What would you give when inexorable death shall tell you that your hour-glass is empty, that your candle is burnt out, and that your soul must speed its way to stand before God? My brethren in the faith, and sisters, too, with what earnestness should this invest you! You are dealing, remember again, with souls that must sink to hell, unless they find mercy in Christ Jesus. It is said that when Michael Angelo painted his celebrated picture of the resurrection, he went by permission to the graveyard, and took out the newly-buried dead, and piled up the corpses by his bedside, and then slept in the midst of them, that he might get his mind into something like a proper frame for picturing the horrors of that tremendous day. I would not have you do such a thing as that; but living as you do in the midst of lost souls, I pray and beseech you to realise the prospect of their speedy perdition as a vivid fact. As you go to your bed, remember the despair and the dismay of those who dared to live in sin, and have already died without hope, and methinks you will then be in a proper frame to paint that life-picture picture—which I hope each and all of us have set our hearts upon— of the conversion of the souls of many by our means. Oh, we are not alive, we are half dead. Whitfield could say, “When I think of these things, I wish I could stand upon the top of every hackney-coach in London, and preach to the passers-by.” We do not preach as if we meant it. I am afraid that we make infidels by our lethargy, and that you Christian people help to prevent the usefulness of the Word of God by the apparent indifference with which you treat eternal things. If hell be a fiction, say so, and honestly play the infidel; but if it be real, and you believe it, wake up, you that so believe, and leave no stone unturned, no means untried, by which through the power of the Holy Spirit sinners may be saved. Pledge yourselves this night, as with your hands upon the horns of the altar; pledge yourselves as you sit in the place where God has often met with you, that from this hour you will seek, God helping you, to love your neighbour as yourself, and prove your love by pitying earnestness in seeking his salvation. That truth seems to be written clearly enough in letters of fire in the midst of the smoke that cometh up from the desolation of lost souls.
And yet it is not merely preaching, important as that is. It is not merely warning our friends and our neighbours, though we should never lose an opportunity of telling them of their danger with more feeling than mere fidelity can inspire; yea, with that repeated earnestness which deep convictions from the very Word of the Lord, and strong affection for the souls of men alone can prompt. Do, let me intreat you, do consider sider the use that Abraham made of that extraordinary revelation, “Shall I hide from Abraham,” said the Lord, “the thing which I do?” “And shall I cease to use the precious opportunity of pleading for my neighbours?” appears to have been the old patriarch's spontaneous thought. My poor brother! Ah, poor Lot! His wife! His daughters! The city with its inhabitants! A thousand thoughts of melting pity come rushing up at once. He does not stand mute with astonishment. He immediately opens his heart with intercessions, and fills his mouth with arguments. Oh brethren and sisters! that is just such a response to the secret of the Lord which he sheweth unto his servants, as you should have always ready to hand. You need not wait for an opportunity. You have it now. Pray, pray, pray,—pray without ceasing. Let the breath of prayer be fervent with heat. Let the prayer be so eager that it repeats itself, as Abraham's did, each time waxing hotter, drawing nearer, growing more bold, till you verily tremble at the venture. “Who can tell?” This we know, we are in no danger of offending God by crying for mercy, even when we see the two-edged sword flaming from his mouth. You have no cause to lay limits upon your importunity or to check the rising passion of your vehement desire. Grayer is a fire that needs stirring. And intercession is a holy wrestling ling in which practice alone can make you an adept. Christians! some of you may look at a doomed Sodom with other eyes than Abraham did. Lot is called a righteous man; and he was vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked. He frowned at the men of Sodom, and expostulated with them, and wished that sinners would restrain their follies, and not go to quite such lengths in sin. That is the sort of man Lot was. Have I not many a Lot before me now? The father of the faithful went a great deal beyond this. He lived far away from the scenes of vice, and the haunts of impiety. I suppose he did not think it necessary to sleep a night in that cage of uncleanness, that he might familiarize himself with the profane customs of the people. But he stood on hallowed ground, and prayed with a tender heart. He interceded with God; he multiplied his intercessions. Every time he prayed, and with each fresh note of prayer, his spirit grew more ardent. Impressed with God's severity, he takes courage from his goodness. Here is a fitting example for us. It is an example which I know will not be lost on some of you. The courage that can rebuke man, must come from the strength that takes hold upon God. When your face shines like an angel with the radiance that the mercy-seat seat reflects upon it, then it shall come to pass that the scorner will not be able to resist the wisdom or the spirit by which you speak.
Oh how dreadful the jeopardy of the souls of unconverted men and women! Jonathan Edwards was once called upon to preach a sermon quite unexpectedly. I believe he had the habit of holding his manuscript close to his eyes, a most ungainly and apparently most inappropriate mode of uttering a discourse. He read it word for word; but as he read it, terror took hold upon his congregation, weeping and sobbing were heard on every side, for the Holy Spirit was with him, and each word came with power upon their souls. I cannot speak such language as he used; but if I could, I might be the means of making some feel in what a state of jeopardy they now are. You stand over the mouth of hell upon a single plank, and that plank is rotten. You hang over the jaws of perdition by a solitary rope, and the strands of that rope are snapping one by one. Frailer than the spider's web is your life, and yet that is the only thing which divides you from a world of despair. The slightest insect commissioned by God's providence may end your unhappy life. You know not where, or when, or how disease may overtake you. Death often floats in the atmosphere of the house of God. He may be looking through those stony eye-holes. The skeleton monarch may be looking at and marking you as his prey. Could Xerxes stand here tonight, could he have a little Christianity mingled with his philosophy, then doubtless the tears he wept as he saw his army, and remembered that in fifty years all would be dead, were nothing to those he would weep as he remembered that thousands this day found within the walls of churches and chapels, and tens of thousands who are not found in any sanctuary, within less time than that will be not only dead but damned! Here is indeed subject for mourning, lamentation, and woe. Ye stand upon the brink of that precipice, and yet ye play. Ye have heard the story of the monarch tyrant, who invited one to a feast. When he came, the table was loaded with dainties, and there was his chair on which he must sit, but just above him hung a sword suspended by a single hair. “Why dost thou not eat, man? Is not the wine rich and rare? Fill thy bowl, and quaff it merrily.” But he looks up. “Why dost thou not help thyself to all those dainty cates which make the table groan. Why man, what ails thee?” He looks up; and right wise is he in looking up, for on that hair his life depends. Would that you were as wise as he, for you will go your way and eat the fat and drink the sweet, but ye forget that hair, that sword. The sword of Damocles could only kill the body, but this sword will kill both soul and body, and kill them both for ever, and but a hair keeps it from you now.
III. I am weary with my picture; I am weary with looking into that thick darkness. Let me turn your eyes another way. Would you be saved? See yonder little hill outside Jerusalem's streets. God has become man. He is bearing sin upon his shoulders. Here he comes all faint and weary with a ponderous beam upon his back. He struggles on. They remove the load a moment. But they force him on with spears and goads, and he, all willingly, leads the van. They come outside the city, and while the sobbing daughters of Jerusalem stand looking – on, they fling him back upon the transverse piece of wood. I see the rough executioners, each man taking hold of a hand or of a foot, holding the nail in his mouth a moment till he gets that blessed palm all ready, and then with his hammer driving in the nails through the hands and feet of the Son of God. He is fastened to the wood. They roughly lift up the cross. A place has been dug for it. They dash it down. That jar has dislocated all his bones. What pain he endures in that moment when he is lifted up between earth and heaven! And now he has a long season of suffering before him. They sit down; they mock him; point to his wounds, scoff at his prayers, gloat their eyes upon his miseries. It is the Son of God suffering there. He shrieks “I thirst! and they give him vinegar to drink. He cries, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” for heaven is black above his head. Fever comes on: his tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth; that mouth becomes hot as an oven; from all his pores the blood comes streaming down. Wherefore do I picture this? Why, here is your salvation. You must have an interest in the sufferings of that man, or you must suffer for yourself for ever. Would you not desire to have him as your substitute? Then remember, whosoever believeth in him is not condemned. Canst thou believe in him now? To believe on him is to trust. Wilt thou trust thyself with Jesus. Now, if thou dost trust, thy sins are forgiven thee, thy soul is accepted, thine eternal state is blessed, thou art delivered from the wrath to come. Go thy way at peace with God and at rest in thy conscience, and rejoice evermore. May the Master bless even my feebleness to-night to your profit, and may we meet in heaven to his praise. Amen.