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What is the matter? Are there no sufficient reasons apparent to your mind why you should give up your heart to God? No reasons? Heaven, earth, and hell may all combine to pour upon you their reasons for fearing and loving God, and yet you can not! Why? Because your heart is fully set within you to do evil rather than good. You are altogether committed to the pleasing of self. Jesus may plead with you -- your friends may plead; heaven and hell may lift up their united voices to plead, and every motive that can press on the heart from reason, conscience, hope and fear, angels and devils, God and man, may pass in long and flashing array before your mind -- but alas! your heart is so fully set to do evil that no motive to change can move you. What is this can not? Nothing less or more than a mighty will not!
That amiable lady insists that she is not much depraved. O no, not she. She will not steal! True, her selfishness takes on a most tender and delicate type. She has most gushing sensibilities; she can not bear to see a kitten in distress; but what does she care for God's rights? What for the rights of Jesus Christ? What does she care for God's feelings? What does she care for the feelings and sympathies of the crucified Son of God? just nothing at all. What, then, are all her tender sensibilities worth? Doves and kittens have even more of this than she. Many tender ties has she, no doubt, but they are all under the control of a perfectly selfish heart.
Mother Eve, too, was most amiable. Indeed, she was A truly pious woman before she sinned -- and Adam no doubt thought she could be trusted everywhere; but mark how terribly she fell! So her daughters. Giving up their hearts to a refined selfishness, they repel God's most righteous claims, and they are fallen!
So go through all the ranks of society and you see the same thing. Go to the pirate ship, the captain armed to the teeth and the fire of hell in his eye; ask him to receive an offered Savior and repent of his sins, and he gives the very same answer as that amiable daughter does -- he can not repent. His heart, too, is so fully set within him to do evil that he can not get his own consent to turn from his sins to God.
O this horrible committal of the heart to do evil! It is the only reason why the Holy Ghost is needed to change the sinner's heart. But for this you would no more need the Holy Ghost than an angel of light does. O how fearfully strong is the sinner's heart against God! just where the claims of God come in he seems to have almost an omnipotence of strength to oppose and resist! The motives of truth may roll mountain high and beat upon his iron heart, yet see how he braces up his nerves to withstand God What can he not resist sooner than submit his will to God Another thing lies in this text, incidentally brought out -- assumed, but not affirmed -- viz., that sinners are already under sentence. The text says, "Because sentence is not executed speedily," implying that sentence is already passed and only waits its appointed time for execution. You who have attended courts of justice know that after trial and conviction next comes sentence. The culprit takes his seat on the criminal's bench. The judge arises -- all is still as death; he reviews the case, and comes shortly to the solemn conclusion: you are convicted by this court of the crime alleged, and now you are to receive your sentence. Sentence is then pronounced.
After this solemn transaction, execution is commonly deferred for a period longer or shorter according to circumstances. The object may be either to give the criminal opportunity to secure a pardon, or if there be no hope of this, at least to give him some days or weeks for serious reflection in which he may secure the peace of his soul with God. For such reasons, execution is usually delayed. But after sentence, the case is fully decided. No further doubt of guilt can interpose to affect the case; the possibility of pardon is the only remaining hope. The awful sentence seals his doom -- unless it be possible that pardon may be had. That sentence -- how it sinks into the heart of the guilty culprit! "You are now," says the judge, "remanded to the place from whence you came; there to be kept in irons. under close confinement, until the day appointed; then to be taken forth from your prison between the hours of ten and twelve, as the case maybe, and hung by the neck until you are dead. And may God have mercy on your soul!" The sentence has passed now -- the court have done their work; it only remains for the sheriff to do his as the executioner of justice and the fearful scene closes.
So the Bible represents the case of the sinner. He is under sentence, but his sentence is not executed speedily. Some respite is given. The arrangements of the divine government require no court, no jury; the law itself says" The soul that sinneth, it shall die;"Cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things written in the book of the law to do them;" so that the mandate of the law involves the sentence of law on every sinner -- a sentence from which there can be no escape and no reprieve except by a pardon. What a position is this for the sinner!
But next consider another strange fact. Because sentence is not executed speedily; because there is some delay of execution; because Mercy prevails to secure for the condemned culprit a few days' respite, so that punishment shall not tread close on the heels of crime, therefore "the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." How astounding! What a perversion and abuse of the gracious design of the King in granting a little respite from instant execution!
Let us see how it would look in the case of our friend or neighbor. He has committed a fearful crime, is arrested, put on trial, convicted, sentenced, handed over to the sheriff to await the day and hour of his execution. The judge says I defer the execution that you may have opportunity to secure a pardon from the governor. I assure you the governor is a most compassionate man -- he loves to grant pardons; he has already pardoned thousands; if you will give up your spirit of rebellion he will most freely forgive you all; I beg of you, therefore, that you will do no such thing as attempt a justification; don't think of escaping death otherwise than by casting yourself upon his mercy; don't flatter yourself that there can be any other refuge.
Now suppose this man begins, "I have done nothing -- just nothing at all. I am simply a martyr to truth and justice I At all events, I have done nothing very bad -- nothing that any government ought to notice. I don't believe I shall be sentenced -- (the man is condemned already!) I shall live as long as the best of you." So he sets himself to making excuses. He goes to work as if he was preparing for a trial, and as if he expected to prove his innocence before the court. Nay, perhaps he even sets himself to oppose and curse the government, railing at its laws and at its officers, deeming nothing too bad to say of them, indulging himself in the most outrageous opposition, abusing the very men whose mercy has spared his forfeited life! How would all men be shocked to see such a case -- to see a man who should so outrage all propriety as to give himself up to abuse the government whose righteous laws he had just broken and then whose clemency he had most flagrantly abused! Yet this text affirms just this to be the case of the sinner, and all observation sustains it. You have seen it acted over ten thousand tunes; you can look back and see it in your own case. You know it is all true -- fearfully, terribly true.
If it were in some striking, awful manner revealed to you this night that your soul is damned, you would be thunder-struck. You do not believe the simple declaration of Jehovah as it stands recorded on the pages of the Bible. You are continually saying to yourself -- I shall not be condemned at last -- I will venture along. I will dare to tempt His forbearance yet. I do not at all believe He will send me to hell. At least, I will venture on a season longer and turn about by and by if I find it quite advisable; but at present why should I fear to set my heart fully in the way God has forbidden?
Where will you find a parallel to such wickedness? Only think of a state of moral hardihood that can abuse God's richest mercies -- that can coolly say -- God is so good that I will abuse Him all I can; God loves me so much that I shall venture on without fear to insult Him and pervert His long-suffering to the utmost hardening of my soul in sin and rebellion.
Let each sinner observe -- the day of execution is really set. God will not pass over it. When it arrives, there can be no more delay. God waits not because He is in doubt about the justice of the sentence -- not because His heart misgives Him in view of its terrible execution; but only that He may use means with you and see if He cannot persuade you to embrace mercy. This is all; this the only reason why judgment for a long time has lingered and the sword of justice has not long since smitten you down.
Here is another curious fact. God has not only deferred execution, but at immense cost has provided means for the safe exercise of mercy. You know it is naturally a dangerous thing to bestow mercy -- there is so much danger lest it should weaken the energy of law and encourage men to trample it down in hope of impunity. But God has provided a glorious testimony in favor of law, going to show that it is in His heart to sustain it at every sacrifice, He could not forgive sin until His injured and insulted law is honored be, fore the universe. Having done all this in the sacrifice of His own Son on Calvary, He can forgive without fear of consequences, provided only that each candidate for pardon shall first be repentant.
Now, therefore, God's heart of mercy is opened wide and no fear of evil consequences from gratuitous pardons disturbs the exercise of mercy. Before atonement, justice stood with brandished sword, demanding vengeance on the guilty; but by and through atoning blood, God rescued His law from peril -- He lifted it up from beneath the impious foot of the transgressor, and set it on high in safety and glory; and now opens wide the blessed door of mercy. Now He comes in the person of His Spirit and invites you in. He comes to your very heart and room, sinner, to offer you the freest possible pardon for all your sin. Do you hear that gentle rap at your door? "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and sup with him, and be with me." Look at those hands. Have they not been pierced? Do you know those hands? Do you know where they have been to be nailed through and through? Mark those locks wet with the dew. Ah, how long have they been kept without in waiting for the door to open! Who is it that comes? Is it the sheriff of justice? Has he come with his armed men to drag you away to execution? Oh, no, no; but One comes with the cup of mercy in His hands; He approaches your prison- gate, His eye wet with the tear of compassion, and through the diamond of your grate He extends that cup of mercy to your parched lips. Po you see that visage, so marred more than any man's -- and you are only the more fully set to do evil? Ah, young man! alas, young woman! is such your heart toward the God of mercy? Where can we find a parallel to such guilt? Can it be found anywhere else in the universe but in this crazy world?
The scenes and transactions of earth must excite a wonderful interest in heaven. Angels desire to look into these things. O how the whole universe look on with inquisitive wonder to see what Christ has done, and how the sinners for whom He has suffered and done all, repay His amazing love! When they see you set your heart only the more fully to do evil, they stand back aghast at such unparalleled wickedness! What can be done for such sinners but leave them to the madness and doom of their choice?