Are you a Christian?
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Here let me say, that if God were to make a law prescribing what nature or constitution a man must have, it could not possible be otherwise than unjust and absurd, for the reason that man's nature is not a proper subject for legislation, precept, and penalty, inasmuch as it lies entirely without the pale of voluntary action, or of any action of man at all. And yet thousands of men have held the dogma that sin consists in great part in having a sinful nature. Yes, through long ages of past history, grave theologians have gravely taught this monstrous dogma; it has resounded from pulpits, and has been stereotyped for the press, and men have seemed to be never weary of glorifying this dogma as the surest test of sound orthodoxy! Orthodoxy!!There never was a more infamous libel on Jehovah! It would be hard to name another dogma which more violently outrages common sense. it is nonsense -- absurd and utter NONSENSE! I would to God that it were not even worse than nonsense! Think what mischief it has wrought! Think how it has scandalized the law, the government, and the character of God! Think how it has filled the mouths of sinners with excuses from the day of its birth to this hour
Now I do not mean to imply that the men who have held this dogma have intelligently insulted God with it. I do not imply that they have been aware of the impious and even blasphemous bearings of this dogma upon Jehovah: I am happy to think that some at least have done all this mischief ignorantly. But the blunder and the mischief have been none the less for the honest ignorance in which they were done.
4. Sinners, in self-excuse, say they are willing to be Christians.They are willing, they say, to be sanctified. O yes, they are very willing; but there is some great difficulty lying further back or something else -- perhaps they do not know just where -- but it is somewhere, and it will not let them become Christians.
Now the fact is, if we are really willing, there is nothing more which we can do. Willing is all we have to do morallyin the case, and all we can do. But the plea, as in the sinner's mouth, maintains that God requires of us what is naturally impossible. It assumes that God requires of us something more than right willing; and this, be it what it may, is, of course, to us, an impossibility. If I will to move my muscles, and no motion follows, I have done all I can do; there is a difficulty beyond my reach, and I am in no blame for its existence, or for its impediment. Just so, if I were to will to serve God, and absolutely no effect should follow, I have done my utmost, and God never can demand anything more. In fact, to will is the very thing which God does require. If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted. Do tell me, parent, if you had told your child to do anything, and you saw him exerting himself to the utmost, would you ask anything more? If you should see a parent demanding and enforcing of a child more than he could possibly do, however willing, would you not denounce that parent as a tyrant? Certainly you would. The slave-driver, even, is not wont to beat his slave, if he sees him willing to do all he can.
This plea is utterly false, for no sinner is willing to be any better than be actually is. If the will is right, all is right; and universally the state of the will is the measure of one's moral character. Those men, therefore, who plead that they are willing to be Christians while yet they remain in their sins, talk mere nonsense.
5. Sinners say they are waiting God's time. A lady in Philadelphia had been in great distress of mind for many years. On calling to see her, I asked, What does God require of you? What is your case? Oh, said she,
So my minister tells me. You see, therefore, that I am waiting in great distress for God to receive me.
Now what is the real meaning of this? It comes to this; God urges me to duty, but is not ready for me to do it; He tells me to come to the Gospel feast, and I am ready; but He is not ready to let me in.
Now does not this throw all the blame upon God? Could anything do so more completely than this does? The sinner says, I am ready, and willing, and waiting; but God is not yet ready for me to stop sinning. His hour has not yet come.
When I first began to preach, I found this notion almost universal. Often, after pressing men to duty, I have been accosted, What, you throw all the blame upon the sinner! Yes, indeed I do, would be my reply. An old lady once met me after preaching and broke out, What! you set men to getting religion themselves! You tell them to repent themselves? You don't mean so, do you? Indeed I do,said I. She had been teaching for many years that the sinner's chief duty is to await God's time.
6. Sinners plead in excuse, that their circumstances are very peculiar.I know my duty well enough, but my circumstances are so peculiar. And does not God understand your circumstances? Nay, has not His providence been concerned in making them what they are? If so, then you are throwing blame upon God. You say, O Lord, Thou art a hard master, for Thou hast never made any allowance for my circumstances.
But how much, sinner, do you really mean in making this plea? Do you mean that your circumstances are so peculiar that God ought to excuse you from becoming religious, at least for the present? If you do not mean as much as this, why do you make your circumstances your excuse at all? If you do mean this, then you are just as much mistaken as you can be. For God requires you, despite of your circumstances, to abandon your sin. If, now, your circumstances are so peculiar that you cannot serve God in them, you must abandon them or lose your soul. If they are such as admit of your serving God in them, then do so at once.
But you say, I can't get out of my circumstances. I reply, You can; you can get out of the wickedness of them; for if it is necessary in order to serve God, you can change them; and if not, you can repent and serve God in them.
7. The sinner's next excuse is that his temperament is peculiar.Oh, he says, I am very nervous; or my temperament is very sluggish I seem to have no sensibility. Now what does God require? Does He require of you another or a different sensibility from your own? Or does He require only that you should use what you have according to the law of love?
But such is the style of a multitude of excuses. One has too little excitement; another, too much; so neither can possibly repent and serve God! A woman came to me, and pleaded that she was naturally too excitable, and dared not trust herself; and therefore could not repent. Another has the opposite, trouble -- too sluggish -- scarce ever sheds a tear -- and therefore could make nothing out of religion if he should try. But does God require you to shed more tears than you are naturally able to shed? Or does He only require that you should serve Him? Certainly this is all. Serve Him with the very powers He has given you. Let your nerves be ever so excitable, come and lay those quivering sensibilities over into the hands of God -- pour out that sensibility into the heart of God! This is all that He requires. I know how to sympathize with that woman, for I know much about a burning sensibility; but does God require feeling and excitement? Or only a perfect consecration of all our powers to Himself?
Well, what does God require? Does He require that you should go to all the meetings, by evening or by day, whether you have the requisite health for it or not? Infinitely far from it. If you are not able to go to meeting, yet you can give God your heart. If you can not go in bad weather, be assured that God is infinitely the most reasonable being that ever existed. He makes all due allowance for every circumstance. Does He not know all your weakness? Indeed He does. And do you suppose that He comes into your sickroom and denounces you for not being able to go to meeting, or for not attempting when unable, and for not doing all in your sickness that you might do in health? No, not He; but He comes into your sick-room as a Father. He comes to pour out the deepest compassions of His heart in pity and in love; and why should you not respond to His loving-kindness? He comes to you and says, Give me your heart, my child. And now you reply, I have no heart. Then He has nothing to ask of you -- He thought you had; and thought, too, that He had done enough to draw your heart in love and gratitude to Himself He asks, What can you find in all my dealings with you that is grievous? If nothing, why do you bring forward pleas in excuse for sin that accuse and condemn God?
9. Another excuse is in this form, My heart is so hard, that I can not feel.This is very common, both among professors and non- professors. In reality it is only another form of the plea of inability. In fact, all the sinner's excuses amount only to this, I am unable, I can't do what God requires. If the plea of a hard heart is any excuse at all, it must be on the ground of real inability.
But what is hardness of heart? Do you mean that you have so great apathy of the sensibility that you can not get up any emotion? Or, do you mean that you have no power to will or to act right? Now on this point, it should be considered that the emotions are altogether involuntary.
They go and come according to circumstances, and therefore are never required by the law of God, and are not, properly speaking, either religion itself, or any part of it. Hence, if by a hard heart you mean a dull sensibility, you mean what has no concern with the subject. God asks you to yield your will, and consecrate your affections to Himself, and He asks this, whether you have any feeling or not.
Real hardness of heart, in the Bible use of the phrase, means stubbornness of will. So in the child, a hard heart means a will set in fixed stubbornness against doing its parent's bidding. The child may have in connection with this, either much or little emotion. His sensibilities may be acute and thoroughly aroused, or they may be dormant; and yet the stubborn will may be there in either case.
Now the hardness of heart of which God complains in the sinner is precisely of this sort. The sinner cleaves to his self-indulgence, and will not relinquish it, and then complains of hardness of heart. What would you think of a child, who, when required to do a most reasonable thing, should say, My heart is so hard, I can't yield. O, he says, my will is so set to have my own way that I cannot possibly yield to my father's authority.
This complaint is extremely common. Many a sinner makes it, who has been often warned, often prayed with and wept over, who has been the subject of many convictions. And does he really mean by this plea that he finds his will so obstinate that he can not make up his mind to yield to God's claims? Does he mean this, and does he intend really to publish his own shame? Suppose you go to the devils in hell, and press on them the claims of God, and they should reply, O, my heart is so hard, I can't -- what would be their meaning? Only this: I am so obstinate -- my will is so set in sin, that I can not for a moment indulge the thought of repentance. This would be their meaning, and if the sinner tells the truth of himself, and uses language correctly, he must mean the same. But oh, how does he add insult to injury by this declaration! Suppose a child should plead this -- I can not find it in my heart to love my father and my mother; my heart is so hard towards them; I never can love them; I can feel pleasure only in abusing them, and trampling down their authority. What a plea is this? Does not this heap insult upon wrong? Or suppose a murderer arraigned before the court, and permitted before his sentence to speak, if he had ought to say why sentence should not be passed: suppose he should rise and say, May it please the court, my heart for a long time has been as hard as a millstone. I have murdered so many men, and have been in the practice so long, that I can kill a man without the least compunction of conscience. Indeed, I have such an insatiable thirst for blood that I can not help murdering whenever I have a good opportunity. In fact, my heart is so bard that I find I like this employment full as well as any other.
Well, how long will the court listen to such a plea? Hold there! hold! the judge would cry, you infamous villain, we can hear no more such pleas! Here, sheriff, bring in a gallows, and hang the man within these very walls of justice, for I will not leave the bench until I see him dead! He will murder us all here in this house if he can!
Now what shall we think of the sinner who says the same thing? O God, he says, my heart is so hard I never can love Thee. I hate Thee so sincerely I never can make up my mind to yield this heart to Thee in love and willing submission.
Sinners, how many of you (in this house) have made this plea, My heart is so hard, I can't repent. I can't love and serve God! Go write it down; publish it to the universe -- make your boast of being so hard-hearted that no claims of God can ever move you. Methinks if you were to make such a plea, you would not be half through before the whole universe would hiss you from their presence and chase you from the face of these heavens till you would cry out for some rocks or mountains to hide you from their scathing rebukes! Their voice of indignation would rise up and ring along the arch of heaven like the roar of ten thousand tornadoes, and whelm you with unutterable confusion and shame! What, do you insult and abuse the Great Jehovah? Oh! do you condemn that very God who has watched over you in unspeakable love -- fanned you with His gentle zephyrs in your sickness -- feasted you at His own table, and you would not thank Him, or even notice His providing hand? And then when the sympathy of your Christian friends has pressed you with entreaties to repent, and they have made you a special subject of their prayers -- when angels have wept over you, and unseen spirits have lifted their warning voices in your pathway to hell -- you turn up your face of brass towards Jehovah, and tell Him your heart is so hard you can't repent, and don't care whether you ever do or not! You seize a spear and plunge it into the heart of the crucified One, and then cry out, I can't be sorry, not I; my heart is hard as a stone! I don't care, and I will not repent What a wretch you are, sinner, if this is your plea.
But what does your plea amount to? Only this -- that your heart is fully set to do evil. The sacred writer has revealed your case most clearly, Because vengeance against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. You stand before the Lord just in this daring, blasphemous attitude fully set in your heart to do evil.
10. Another form of the same plea is, My heart is so wicked
I can't. Some do not hesitate to avow this wickedness of heart. What do they mean by it? Do they mean that they are so hardened in sin, and so desperately wicked, that they will not bow? This is the only proper sense of their language, and this is the precise truth.
Since you bring this forward, sinner, as your excuse, your object must be to charge this wickedness of heart upon God. Covertly, perhaps, but really, you imply that God is concerned in creating that wicked heart! This is it, and this is the whole of it. You would feel no interest in the excuse, and it would never escape your lips but for this tacit implication that God is in fault for your wicked heart. This is only the plea of inability, coupled with its twin sister, original sin, coming down in the created blood and veins of the race, under the Creator's responsibility.
11. Another kindred plea is My heart is so deceitful. Suppose a man should make this excuse for deceiving his neighbor, I can't help cheating you. I can't help lying to you and abusing you; my heart is so deceitful! Would any man in his senses ever suppose that this could be an apology or excuse for doing wrong? Never. Of course, unless the sinner means in this plea to set forth his own guilt and condemn himself, he must intend it as some sort of justification; and, if so, he must, in just so far, cast the blame upon God. And this is usually his intention. He does not mean sincerely to confess his own guilt; no, he charges the guilt of his deceitful heart upon God.
You have tried, then, you say, to be a Christian; what is being a Christian? Giving your heart to God. And what is giving your heart to God? Devoting your voluntary powers to Him; ceasing to live for yourself and living for God. This is being a Christian -- the state you profess to have been trying to attain.
No excuse is more common than this. And what is legitimately implied in this trying to be a Christian. A willingness to do your duty is always implied; that the heart, that is, the will is right already; and the trying refers only to the such a God! Why not say with the man who dreamed that he was just going to hell, and as he was parting with his brother -- going, as his dream had it, to heaven, he said, I am going down to hell, but I want you to tell God from me that I am greatly obliged to Him for ten thousand mercies which I never deserved; He has never done me the least injustice; give Him my thanks for all the unmerited good He has done me. At this point he awoke, and found himself bathed in tears of repentance and gratitude to his Father in heaven. O, if men would only act as reasonably as that man dreamed, it would be noble -- it would be right. If, when they suppose themselves to have sinned away the day of grace, they would say, I know God is good -- I will at least send Him my thanks -- He has done me no injustice. If they would take this course they might have at least the satisfaction of feeling that it is a reasonable and a fit one in their circumstances. Sinner, will you do this?
14. Another, closely pressed, says, I have offered to give my heart to Christ, but He won't receive me. I have no evidence that He receives me or ever will.In the last inquiry meeting, a young woman told me she had offered to give her heart to the Lord, but He would not receive her. This was charging the lie directly upon Christ, for He has said, Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out. You say, I came and offered myself, and He would not receive me. Jesus Christ says, Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyman -- not if some particular, some favored one -- but if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him. And yet when you offered Him your heart, did He spurn you away? Did He say -- Away, sinner, BEGONE? No, sinner, He never did it, never. He has said He never would do it. His own words are, Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out. He that seeketh, findeth: to him that knocketh it shall be opened. But you say, I have sought and I did not find. Do you mean to make out that Jesus Christ is a liar? Have you charged this upon Him to His very face? Do you make your solemn affirmation, Lord, I did seek -- I laid myself at Thy gate and knocked -- but all in vain? And do you mean to bring this excuse of yours as a solemn charge of falsehood against Jesus Christ and against God? This will be a serious business with you before it is done with.
15. But another says, There is no salvation for me.Do you mean that Christ has made no atonement for you? But he says, He tasted death for every man. It is declared that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whomsoever believeth on Him shall have eternal life. And now do you affirm that there is no salvation provided and possible for you,? Are you mourning all your way down to hell because you cannot possibly have salvation? When the cup of salvation is placed to your lips, do you dash it away, saying, That cannot be for me? And do you know this? Can you prove it even against the word of God Himself? Stand forth, then, if there be such a sinner on this footstool of God -- speak it out, if you have such a charge against God, and if you can prove it true. Ah, is there no hope? none at all? Oh, the difficulty is not that there is no salvation provided for and offered to you, but that there is no heart for it. Wherefore is there a price put into the hands of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart for it?
16. But perhaps you say in excuse, I cannot change my own heart.Cannot? Suppose Adam had made this excuse when God called him to repent after his first sin. Make you a new heart and a right spirit, said the Lord to him. I cannot change my own heart myself, replies Adam. Indeed, responds his Maker, how long is it since you changed your heart yourself? You changed it a few hours ago from holiness to sin, and will you tell your Creator that you can't change it from sin to holiness?
The sinner should consider that the change of heart is a voluntary thing. You must do it for yourself or it is never done. True, there is a sense in which God changes the heart, but it is only this: God influences the sinner to change, and then the sinner does it. The change is the sinner's own voluntary act.