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All this is just what the sinner wants, because it lets him off from the pressure of present obligation. He wants just a little more time. Anything that will defer that present pressure of obligation to repent immediately, is a relief. What does he want more conviction for? Does God give any such direction to an unrepentant sinner? God takes it for granted that he has conviction enough already. And so he has. Do you say he cannot realize all his sins? If he can realize only one of them, let him repent of that one, and he is a Christian. Suppose he could see them all, what reason is there to think he would repent of them all, any more than he would repent of that one that he does see? All this is comforting the sinner by setting him to do that which he can do, and yet not submit his heart to God.
11. Another way in which false comfort is given to anxious sinners is, to tell them God is trying their faith by keeping them in the furnace, and they must wait patiently upon the Lord. Just as if God were in fault, or stood in the way of a sinner becoming a Christian. Or as if an unrepentant sinner had faith! What an abomination! Suppose somebody should tell my child, while he was standing by the book as I have described: "Wait patiently, my boy, your father is trying your faith." No. The sinner is trying the patience and forbearance of God. God is not setting Himself to torture a sinner, and teach him a lesson of patience. But He is waiting upon him, and laboring to bring him at once into such a state of mind as will render it consistent to fill his soul with the peace of heaven. And shall the sinner be encouraged to resist, by the idea that God is bantering? TAKE CARE!
God has said His Spirit shall not always strive.
12. Another false comfort is, saying to the sinner: "Do your duty, and leave your conversion with God." I once heard an elder of a Church say to an anxious sinner: "Do your duty, and leave your conversion to God; He will do it in His own time and way." That was just the same as telling him, that it was not his duty to be converted NOW. He did not say: "Do your duty, and leave your salvation with God." That would have been proper enough, for it would have been simply telling him to submit to God, and would have included conversion as the first duty of all. But he told him to leave his conversion to God. And this elder, that gave such advice, was a man of liberal education too. How absurd! As if the sinner could do his duty and not be converted! God has required him: "Make you a new heart" (Ezekiel 18:31); and do you beware how you comfort him with an answer of falsehood.
13. Sometimes professors of religion will try to comfort a sinner, by telling him: "Do not be discouraged; I was a long time in this way before I found comfort." They will tell him: "I was under conviction so many weeks - or perhaps so many months, or sometimes years - and have gone through all this, and know just how you feel; your experience is the same as mine precisely. After so long a time I found relief; and I doubt not you will find it by and by. Do not despair, God will comfort you soon." Tell a sinner to take courage in his rebellion! Oh, horrible! Such professors ought to be ashamed. Suppose you were under conviction so many weeks, and afterwards found relief, it is the very last thing you ought to tell an anxious sinner.
What is it but encouraging him to hold out, when his business is to submit? Did you hold out so many weeks while the Spirit was striving with you? You only deserved so much the more to be lost, for your obstinacy and stupidity.
14. Another false comfort is to say: "I have faith to believe you will be converted." You have faith to believe? On what does your faith rest? On the promise of God? On the influences of the Holy Ghost? Then you are counteracting your own faith. The very design and object of the Spirit of God is to tear away from the sinner his last vestige of a hope while remaining in sin; to annihilate every crag and twig he may cling to. And the object of your instruction should be the same. You should fall in with the plan of God. It is only in this way that you can ever do any good - by urging him to submit at once, and leave his soul in the hands of God. But when one that he thinks is a Christian, tells him: "I have faith to believe you will be converted," it upholds him in a false expectation. Instead of tearing him away from his false hopes, and throwing him upon Christ, you just turn him aside to depend upon your faith, and to find comfort because you have faith for him. This is all false comfort, that worketh death.
15. Sometimes professors of religion try to comfort an anxious sinner by telling him: "I will pray for you." This is false comfort, for it leads the sinner to trust in those prayers, instead of trusting in Christ. The sinner says "He is a good man, and God hears the prayers of good men; no doubt his prayers will prevail, some time, and I shall be converted: I do not think I shall be lost." And his anxiety, his agony, is all gone. A woman said to a minister: "I have no hope now, but I have faith in your prayers." Just such faith is this as the devil wants them to have - faith in prayers instead of faith in Christ.
16. It is equally false comfort to say: "I rejoice to see you in this way, and I hope you will be faithful, and hold out." What is this but rejoicing to see him in rebellion against God? For that is precisely the ground on which he stands. He is resisting conviction, and resisting conscience, and resisting the Holy Ghost, and yet you rejoice to see him in this way, and hope he will be faithful, and hold out! There is a sense, indeed, in which it may be said that his situation is more hopeful than when he was in stupidity. For God has convinced him, and may succeed in turning and subduing him. But that is not the sense in which the sinner himself will understand it. He will suppose that you think him in a hopeful way, because he is doing better than formerly; when, in fact, his guilt and danger are greater than they ever were before. Instead of rejoicing, you ought to be distressed and in agony, to see him thus resisting the Holy Ghost, for every moment he does this, he is in danger of being left of God, and given up to hardness of heart and to despair.
17. Again, it is said: "You will have your pay for this, by- and-by: God will reward you." I once heard a sinner say: "I feel very bad, I have strong hopes that I shall get my reward." But that individual afterwards said: "Nowhere can there be found so black a sinner as I am, and no sin of my life seems so black as that expression." He was overwhelmed with contrition, that he should ever have had such an idea, as to think that God should reward him for suffering so much distress, when he had brought it all upon himself, needlessly, by his wicked resistance to the truth. The truth is, what such "instructors" are seeking is, to comfort the sinner; being all in the dark themselves on the subject of religion, they, of course, give him false comfort.
18. Another false comfort is, to tell the sinner he has not repented enough.
The truth is, he has not really repented at all. As soon as the sinner repents, God always comforts him. This direction implies that his feelings are right as far as they go. To tell him that he has any repentance, is to tell him a lie, and cheat him out of his soul.
19. People sometimes comfort a sinner by telling him: "If you are elected, you will be brought in." I once heard of a case where a person under great distress of mind was sent to converse with a neighboring minister. They talked for a long time. As the person went away, the minister said to him: "I should like to send a line by you to your father." His father was a pious man. The minister wrote the letter, and forgot to seal it. As the sinner was going home, he saw that the letter was not sealed, and he thought to himself, that probably the minister had written about him, and his curiosity at length led him to open and read it. And there he found it written to this purport: "Dear Sir, - I found your son under conviction, and in great distress, and it seems not easy to say anything to give him relief. But, if he is one of the elect, he is sure to be brought in." He had wanted to say something to comfort the father; but now, mark: that letter had well-nigh ruined the son's soul; for he settled down on the doctrine of Election, saying: "If I am elected, I shall be brought in;" and his conviction was gone. Years afterwards he was awakened and converted, but only after a great struggle, and never until that false impression had been obliterated from his mind, and he had been made to see that he had nothing at all to do with the doctrine of Election, but that if he did not repent he would be lost.
20. It is very common for some people to tell an awakened sinner: "You are in a very prosperous way. I am glad to see you so, and feel encouraged about you." It sometimes seems as if the Church were in league with the devil to help sinners to resist the Holy Ghost. The thing that the Holy Ghost wants to make the sinner feel is, that all his ways are wrong, and that they lead to hell. And everybody is conspiring to make the opposite impression! The Spirit is trying to discourage him, and they are trying to encourage him; the Spirit to distress him by showing him that he is all wrong, and they to comfort him by saying he is doing well. Has it come to this, that the worst counteraction to the truth and the greatest obstacle to the Spirit, shall spring from the Church. Sinner, do not believe them! You are not in a hopeful way. You are not doing well, but ill - as ill as you can, while resisting the Holy Ghost.
21. Another fatal way in which false comfort is given to sinners, is by applying to them certain Scripture promises which were designed only for saints. This is a grand device of the devil. It is much practiced by the Universalists. But Christians often do it. For example:
(a) "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). How often has this passage been applied to anxious sinners, who were in distress because they would not submit to God. "Blessed are they that mourn." That is true, where they mourn with godly sorrow. But what is this sinner mourning about? He is mourning because God's law is holy, and the terms of salvation so fixed that he cannot bring them down to his mind. Will you tell such a rebel: "Blessed are they that mourn"? You might just as well apply it to those that are in hell! There is mourning there, too.
The sinner is mourning because there is no other way of salvation, because God is so holy that He requires him to give up all his sins, and he feels that the time has come, that he must either give them up, or be lost. Shall we tell him, he shall be comforted? Shall we tell the devil: "You mourn now; but the Bible says, you are blessed if you mourn; and you shall be comforted by and by!"
(b) "Seek, and ye shall find" (Matthew 7:7). This is said to sinners in such a way as to imply that the anxious sinner is seeking religion. This promise was made in reference to Christians, who ask in faith, and seek to do the will of God, and it is not applicable to those who are seeking hope or comfort; but to holy seeking. To apply it to an unrepentant sinner is only to deceive him, for his seeking is not of this character. To tell him: "You are seeking, are you? Well, seek, and you shall find," is to cherish a fatal delusion. While he remains unrepentant, he has not a desire which the devil might not have, and yet remain a devil still.
If the sinner had a desire to do his duty, if he were seeking to do the will of God, and give up his sins, he would be a Christian. But to comfort an unrepentant sinner with such a promise - you might just as well comfort Satan!
"Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Galatians 6:9). To apply this for a sinner's comfort, is absurd.
As if he were doing something to please God! He has never done well, and never has done more ill than now. Suppose my neighbor, who came in while I was trying to subdue my child, should say to the child, "In due season you shall reap, if you faint not," what should I say? "Reap? Yes, you shall reap; if you do not give up your obstinacy, you shall reap indeed, for I will apply the rod." So the struggling sinner shall reap the damnation of hell, if he does not give up his sins.
22. Some professors of religion, when they attempt to converse with awakened sinners, are very fond of saying: "I will tell you my experience."
This is a dangerous snare, and often gives the devil a handle to lead the sinner to hell, by getting him to copy your experience. If you tell it to the sinner, and he thinks it is a Christian experience, he will almost infallibly be trying to imitate it, so that, instead of following the Gospel, or the leadings of the Spirit in his own soul, he is following your example. This is absurd as well as dangerous. No two were ever exercised just alike. Men's experiences are as much unlike as are their countenances. Such a course is likely to mislead him. The design is, often, to encourage him at the very point where he ought not to be encouraged, before he has submitted to God. And it is calculated to impede the work of God in his soul.
23. How many times will people tell an awakened sinner that God has begun a good work in him, and will carry it on. I have known parents talk so with their children, and, as soon as they have seen their children awakened, give up all anxiety about them, and settle down at ease, thinking that now God had begun a work in their children He would carry it on. It would be just as rational for a farmer to say about his grain, as soon as it comes up out of the ground: "Well, God has begun a good work in my field, and He will carry it on." What would be thought of a farmer who should neglect to put up his fence, because God has begun the work of giving him a crop of grain? If you tell a sinner so, and he believes you, it will certainly be his destruction, for it will prevent his doing that which is absolutely indispensable to his being saved. If, as soon as the sinner is awakened, he is taught that, God having begun a good work, that only needs to be carried on, He will surely carry it on, he sees that there is no further occasion to be anxious, for, in fact, he has nothing more to do. And so he will be relieved from that intolerable pressure of present obligation to repent and submit to God. And if he is relieved from his sense of obligation to do it, he will never do it.
24. Some will tell the sinner: "Well, you have broken off your sins, have you?"Oh, yes," says the sinner; when it is all false; he has never forsaken his sins for a moment, he has only exchanged one form of sin for another; only placed himself in a new attitude of resistance. And to tell him that he has broken them off is to give him false comfort.
25. Sometimes this direction is given for the purpose of relieving the agony of an anxious sinner: "Do what you can, and God will do the rest"; or: "Do what you can, and God will help you." This is the same as telling a sinner: "You cannot do what God requires you to do, but if you do what you can, God will help you as to the rest." Now, sinners often get the idea that they have done all they can, when, in fact, they have done nothing at all, except that they have resisted God with all their might. I have often heard them say: "I have done all I can, and I get no relief, what can I do more?" Now, you can see how comforting it must be to such a one to have a professor of religion come in and say: "If you will do what you can, God will help you." It relieves all his keen distress at once. He may be uneasy, and unhappy, but his agony is gone.
26. Again, they say: "You should be thankful for what you have, and hope for more." If the sinner is convicted, they tell him he should be thankful for conviction, and hope for conversion. If he has any feeling, he should be thankful for what feeling he has, just as if his feeling were religious feeling,when he has no more religion than Satan. He has reason to be thankful, indeed: thankful that he is out of hell, and thankful that God is yet waiting on him. But it is ridiculous to tell him that he should be thankful in regard to the state of his mind, when he is all the while resisting his Maker with all his might.
IV. ERRORS MADE IN PRAYING FOR SINNERS.
I will here mention a few errors that are made in praying for sinners, by which an unhappy impression is made on their minds, in consequence of which they often obtain false comfort in their distress.
1. People sometimes pray for sinners as if they deserved TO BE PITIED more than BLAMED. They pray for them as "MOURNERS": "Lord, help these pensive mourners"! As if they were just mourners, like one that had lost a friend, or met with some other calamity, which he could not help, and so were greatly to be pitied, sitting there, sad, pensive, and sighing. The Bible never talks so. It pities sinners, but it pities them as mad and guilty rebels, deserving to go to hell; not as poor pensive mourners, who want to be relieved, but can do nothing but sit and mourn.
2. Praying for them as "poor sinners." Does the Bible ever use such language as this? The Bible never speaks of them as "poor sinners," as if they deserved to be pitied more than blamed. Christ pities sinners in His heart. And so does God pity them. He feels in His heart all the gushings of compassion for them, when He sees them going on, obstinate and willful in gratifying their own lusts, at the peril of His eternal wrath. But He never lets an impression escape from Him, as if the sinner were just a "poor creature" - to be pitied, as if he could not help his position. The idea that he is poor, rather than wicked; unfortunate, rather than guilty, relieves the sinner greatly. I have seen the sinner writhe with agony under the truth, in a meeting, until somebody began to pray for him as a "poor" creature. And then he would gush out into tears, and weep profusely, and think he was greatly benefitted by such a prayer, saying: "Oh, what a good prayer that was!" If you go now and converse with that sinner, you will probably find that he is still pitying himself as a poor unfortunate creature - perhaps even weeping over his unhappy condition; but his conviction of sin, his deep impressions of awful guilt, are all gone.