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Sometimes persons will strenuously maintain that they have committed the unpardonable sin. When they get that idea into their minds, they will turn everything you say against themselves. In some such cases, it is a good way to take them on their own ground, and reason with them in this way: "Suppose you have committed the unpardonable sin, what then? It is reasonable that you should submit to God, and be sorry for your sins, and break off from them, and do all the good you can, even if God will not forgive you. Even if you go to hell, you ought to do this." Press this thought until you find they understand and consent to it.
It is common for persons in such cases to keep their eyes on themselves; they will shut themselves up, and keep looking at their own darkness, instead of looking away to Christ. Now, if you can take their minds off from themselves, and get them to think of Christ, you may draw them away from brooding over their own present feelings, and get them to lay hold on the hope set before them in the Gospel.
2. Be careful, in conversing with convicted sinners, not to make any compromise with them on any point where they have a difficulty. If you do, they will be sure to take advantage of it, and thus get a false hope.
Convicted sinners often get into a difficulty, in regard to giving up some darling sin, or yielding some point where conscience and the Holy Ghost are at war with them. And if they come across an individual who will yield the point, they feel better, and are happy, and think they are converted.
The young man who came to Christ was of this character. He had one difficulty, and Jesus Christ knew just what it was. He knew he loved his money; and instead of compromising the matter and thus trying to comfort him, he just put His finger on the very place and told him: "Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and come and follow Me" (Matthew 19:21). What was the effect? Why, the young man "went away sorrowful." Very likely, if Christ had told him to do anything else, he would have felt relieved, and would have got a hope; would have professed himself a disciple, joined the Church, and gone to hell.
People are often amazingly anxious to make a compromise. They will ask such questions as this: Whether you do not think a person may be a Christian, and yet do such-and-such things? Or: If he may be a Christian and not do such-and-such things? Now, do not yield an inch to any such questions. The questions themselves may often show you the very point that is laboring in their minds. They will show you that it is pride, or love of the world, or something of the kind, which is preventing them from becoming Christians.
Be careful to make thorough work on this point - the love of the world. I believe there have been more false hopes built on wrong instructions here, than in any other way. I once heard a Doctor of Divinity trying to persuade his hearers to give up the world; but he told them: "If you will only give it up, God will give it right back to you. He is willing that you should enjoy the world." 38 Miserable! God never gives back the world to a Christian, in the same sense that He requires a convicted sinner to give it up. He requires us to give up the ownership of everything to Him, so that we shall never again for a moment consider it as our own. A man must not think he has a right to judge for himself how much of his property he shall lay out for God. One man thinks he may spend seven thousand dollars a year to support his family; he has a right to do it, because he has the means of his own. Another thinks he may lay up fifty or a hundred thousand dollars. One man said, the other day, that he had promised he never would give any of his property to educate young men for the ministry; so, when he is applied to, he just answers: "I have said I never will give to any such object, and I never will." Man! did Jesus Christ ever tell you to act so with His money? Has he laid down any such rule?
Remember, it is His money you are talking about, and if He wants it to educate ministers, you withhold it at your peril. Such a man has yet to learn the first principle of religion, that he is not his own, and that the money which he "possesses" is Jesus Christ's.
Here is the great reason why the Church is so full of false hopes. Men have been left to suppose they could be Christians while holding on to their money. And this has served as a clog to every enterprise. It is an undoubted fact, that the Church has funds enough to supply the world with Bibles, and tracts, and missionaries, immediately. But the truth is, that professors of religion do not believe that "the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof." Every man supposes he has a right to decide what appropriation he shall make of his own money. And they have no idea that Jesus Christ shall dictate to them on the subject.
Be sure to deal thoroughly on this point. The Church is now filled up with hypocrites, because people were never made to see that unless they made an entire consecration of all to Christ - all their time, all their talents, all their influence - they would never get to heaven. Many think they can be Christians, and yet dream along through life, and use all their time and property for themselves, only giving a little now and then, just to save appearances, and when they can do it with perfect convenience. But it is a sad mistake, and they will find it so, if they do not employ their energies for God. And when they die, instead of finding heaven at the end of the path they are pursuing, they will find hell there.
In dealing with a convicted sinner, be sure to drive him away from every refuge, and not leave him an inch of ground to stand on so long as he resists God. This need not take a long time to do. When the Spirit of God is at work striving with a sinner, it is easy to drive him from his refuges.
Make the sinner see clearly the nature and extent of the Divine law, and press the main question of entire submission to God. Bear down on that point as soon as you have made him clearly understand what you aim at, and do not turn off upon anything else.
Be careful, in illustrating the subject, not to mislead the mind so as to leave the impression that a selfish submission will answer, or a selfish acceptance of the Atonement, or a selfish giving up to Christ and receiving Him, as if a man were making a good bargain, giving up his sins, and receiving salvation in exchange. This is mere barter, and not submission to God. Leave no ground in your explanations or illustrations, for such a view of the matter. Man's selfish heart will eagerly seize such a view of religion, if it be presented, and very likely close in with it, and thus get a false hope.
1. Make it an object of constant study, and of daily reflection and prayer, to learn how to deal with sinners so as to promote their conversion. It is the great business on earth of every Christian, to save souls. People often complain that they do not know how to take hold of this matter. Why, the reason is plain enough; they have never studied it. They have never taken the proper pains to qualify themselves for the work. If people made it no more a matter of attention and thought to qualify themselves for their worldly business, than they do to save souls, how do you think they would succeed? Now, if you are thus neglecting the main business of life, what are you living for? If you do not make it a matter of study, how you may most successfully act in building up the Kingdom of Christ, you are acting a very wicked and absurd part as a Christian.
2. Many professors of religion do more harm than good, when they attempt to talk to unrepentant sinners. They have so little knowledge and skill, that their remarks rather divert attention than increase it.
3. Be careful to find the point where the Spirit of God is pressing a sinner, and press the same point in all your remarks. If you divert his attention from that, you will be in great danger of destroying his convictions. Take pains to learn the state of his mind, what he is thinking of, how he feels, and what he feels most deeply upon, and then press that chief point thoroughly. Do not divert his mind by talking about anything else. Do not fear to press that point for fear of driving him to distraction. Some people fear to press a point to which the mind is tremblingly alive, lest they should injure the mind, nevertheless that the Spirit of God is evidently debating that very point with the sinner. This is an attempt to be wiser than God. You should clear up the point, throw the light of truth all around it, and bring the soul to yield, and then the mind will be at rest.
4. Great evils have arisen, and many false hopes have been created, by not discriminating between an awakened, and a convicted, sinner. For the want of this, persons who are only awakened are immediately pressed to submit - "you must repent,"submit to God" - when they are in fact neither convinced of their guilt, nor instructed so far as even to know what submission means. This is one way in which revivals have been greatly injured - by indiscriminate exhortations to repent, unaccompanied by proper instruction.
5. Anxious sinners are to be regarded as being in a very solemn and critical state. They have, in fact, come to a turning-point. It is a time when their destiny is likely to be settled for ever. Christians ought to feel deeply for them. In many respects their circumstances are more solemn than those of the Judgment. Here their destiny is settled. The Judgment Day reveals it.
The physician, if he knows anything of his duty, sometimes feels himself under a very solemn responsibility. His patient is in a critical state, where a little error will destroy life, and hangs quivering between life and death. If such responsibility should be felt in relation to the body, what awful responsibility should be felt in relation to the soul, when it is seen to hang trembling on a point, and its destiny is now to be decided. One false impression, one indiscreet remark, one sentence misunderstood, a slight diversion of mind, may wear him the wrong way, and his soul be lost.
Never was an angel employed in a more solemn work, than that of dealing with sinners who are under conviction. How solemnly and carefully then should Christians walk, how wisely and skillfully work, if they do not wish to be the means of the loss of a soul!
Finally, if there is a sinner in this house, let me say to him: "Abandon all your excuses. You have been told tonight that they are all in vain. This very hour may seal your eternal destiny. Will you submit to God tonight - NOW?"