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3. Praying that God would "help the sinner to repent."O Lord, enable this poor sinner to repent now." This conveys the idea to the sinner's mind, that he is now trying with all his might to repent, and that he cannot do it, and therefore Christians are calling on God to help him, and enable him to do it. Most professors of religion pray for sinners, not that God would make them willing to repent, but that He would enable them, or make them able. No wonder their prayers are not heard. They relieve the sinner of his sense of responsibility, and that relieves his distress. But it is an insult to God, as if God had commanded a sinner to do what He could not do.
4. People sometimes pray: "Lord, these sinners are seeking Thee, sorrowing." This language is an allusion to what took place at the time when Jesus was a little boy, and went into the Temple to talk with the rabbis and doctors. His parents, you recollect, went a day's journey towards home before they missed him; then they turned back, and, after looking all around, they found the little Jesus standing in the Temple disputing with the learned men. Then "His mother said unto Him, Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing" (Luke 2:48). And so this prayer represents sinners as seeking Jesus, but He hides Himself from them, and they look all around, and hunt, and try to find Him, and wonder where He is, and say: "Lord, we have sought Jesus these three days sorrowing." It is a LIE! No sinner ever sought Jesus with all his heart three days, or three minutes, and could not find Him. Jesus "stands at the door, and knocks" (Revelation 3:20).
He is right before the sinner, pleading with him, and facing him with all his false pretenses. Seeking Jesus! The sinner may cry: "Oh, how I am sorrowing, and seeking Jesus," but it is no such thing; Jesus is seeking him.
5. "Lord, have mercy on these sinners, who are seeking Thy love to know." This is a favorite expression with many; as if sinners were seeking to know the love of Christ, and could not. No such thing. They are not seeking the love of Christ, but seeking to get to heaven without Jesus Christ. As if they were seeking it, and He was so hard-hearted that He would not let them have it!
6. "Lord, have mercy on these repentant souls"; calling anxious sinners "repentant souls"! If they are truly repentant, they are Christians. To make the impression on an unconverted sinner that he is repentant, is to make him believe a lie. But it is very comforting to the sinner, and he likes to take it up, and pray it over again: "O Lord, I am a poor repentant soul, I am very repentant, I am so distressed, Lord, have mercy on a poor repentant."
Dreadful delusion, to lead an unrepentant sinner to pray as a repentant!
7. Sometimes people pray for anxious sinners as "humble souls."O Lord, these sinners have humbled themselves." But that is not true, they have not humbled themselves; if they had, the Lord would have raised them up and comforted them, as He has promised. There is a hymn of this character that has done much mischief. It begins:
Come, HUMBLE sinner, in whose breast A thousand thoughts revolve.
This hymn was once given by a minister to an awakened sinner, as one applicable to his case. He began to read: "Come, humble sinner." He stopped: "Humble sinner: that is not applicable to me, I am not a humble sinner." Ah, how well was it for him that the Holy Ghost had taught him better than the hymn! If the hymn had said: "Come, anxious sinner," or "guilty sinner," or "trembling sinner," it would have been well enough, but to call him a "humble" sinner would not do. There are vast numbers of hymns of the same character. It is very common to find sinners quoting the false sentiments of some hymn, to excuse themselves in rebellion against God.
A minister told me he heard a prayer, quite lately, in these words: "O Lord, these sinners have humbled themselves, and come to Thee as well as they know how; if they knew any better, they would do better; but, O Lord, as they have come to Thee in the best manner they can, we pray Thee to accept them and show mercy." Horrible!
8. Many pray: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do"
(Luke 23:34). This is the prayer which Christ made for His murderers; and, in their case, it was true; they did not know what they were doing, for they did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. But it cannot be said of sinners under the Gospel that they do not know what they are doing. They do know what they are doing. They do not see the full extent of it; but they do know that they are sinning against God, and rejecting Christ; and the difficulty is that they are unwilling to submit to God. But such a prayer is calculated to make the sinner feel relieved, and make him say: "Lord, how canst Thou blame me so? I am a poor ignorant creature, I do not know how to do what is required of me; if I knew how, I would do it."
9. Another expression is: "Lord, direct these sinners, who are inquiring the way to Zion with their faces thitherward." But this language is only applicable to Christians. Sinners have not their faces towards Zion; their faces are set towards hell! And how can a sinner be said to be "inquiring the way" to Zion, when he has no disposition to go there? The real difficulty is that he is unwilling to WALK in the way in which he knows he ought to go.
10. People pray that sinners "may have more conviction." Or, they pray that sinners may "go home solemn and tender, and take the subject into consideration," instead of praying that they may repent now. Or, they pray as if they supposed the sinner to be willing to do what is required.
All such prayers are just such prayers as the devil wants; he wishes to have such prayers, and I dare say he does not care how many such are offered.
Sometimes, in an anxious meeting, or when sinners have been called to the anxious seats, after the minister has made plain the way of salvation, and taken away all stumbling blocks out of the path, just when the sinners are ready to YIELD some one will be called on to pray, and instead of praying that they may repent now, he begins: "O' Lord, we pray that these sinners may be solemn, that they may have a deep sense of their sinfulness, that they may go home impressed with their lost condition, that they may attempt nothing in their own strength, that they may not lose their convictions, and that, in Thine own time and way, they may be brought into the glorious light and liberty of the sons of God."
Instead of bringing them right up to the point of immediate submission, on the spot, it gives them time to breathe, it lessens the pressure of conviction, so that a sinner breathes freely again, and feels relieved, and sits down at his ease. Thus, when the sinner is brought up, as it were, and stands at the gate of the Kingdom, such a prayer, instead of pushing him in, sets him back again: "There, poor thing, sit there till God helps you."
11. Christians sometimes pray in such a manner as to make the impression that CHRIST IS THE SINNER'S FRIEND in a different sense from that in which God the Father is his Friend. They pray to Christ: "O Thou Friend of sinners," as if God were full of vengeance, just going to crush the poor wretch, till Jesus Christ comes in and takes his part, and delivers him. Now, this is all wrong. The Father and the Son are perfectly agreed, their feelings are all the same, and both are equally disposed to have sinners saved. And to make such an impression deceives the sinner, and leads to wrong feelings towards God. To represent God the Father as standing over him, with the sword of justice in His hand, eager to strike the blow, till Christ interposes, is not right. The Father is as much the sinner's Friend as the Son. His compassion is equal. But if the sinner get this unfavorable idea of God the Father, how is he ever to love Him with all his heart, so as to say: "Abba, Father"?
12. The impression is often made, by the manner of praying, that you do not expect sinners to repent now, or that you expect God to fulfill what is their duty, or that you wish to encourage them to trust in your prayers.
And so, sinners are ruined. Never pray so as to make the impression on sinners, that you secretly hope they are Christians already, or that you feel strong confidence they will be, by and by, or that you half believe they are converted now. This is always unhappy. In this way, multitudes are deceived with false comfort, and prevented, just at the critical point, from making the final surrender of themselves to God.
1. Many persons who deal in this way with anxious sinners, do so from false pity. They feel so much sympathy and compassion, that they cannot bear to tell sinners the truth which is necessary to save them. As well might a surgeon, when he sees that a man's arm must be amputated, or death must result, indulge this feeling of false pity, and just put on a plaster, and give him an opiate. There is no benevolence in that. True benevolence would lead the surgeon to be cool and calm, and, with a keen knife, cut the limb off, and save the life. It is false tenderness to do anything short of that. I once saw a woman under distress of mind, who for months had been driven well nigh to despair. Her friends had tried all the false comforts without effect, and they brought her to see a minister.
She was emaciated, and worn out with agony. The minister set his eye upon her, and poured in the truth upon her mind, and rebuked her in a most pointed manner. The woman who was with her interfered: she thought it cruel, and said: "Oh, do comfort her, she is so distressed, do not trouble her any more, she cannot bear it." Whereupon the minister turned, and rebuked her, and sent her away, and then poured in the truth upon the anxious sinner like fire, so that in five minutes she was converted, and went home full of joy. The plain truth swept all her false notions away, and in a few moments she was joyful in God.
2. The treatment of anxious sinners, which ministers such false comforts is, in fact, cruelty. It is cruel as the grave, as cruel as hell, for it is calculated to send the sinner down to the burning abyss. Christians feel compassion for the anxious, and so they ought. But the last thing they ought to do is to flinch just at the point where it comes to a crisis. They should feel compassion, but they should show it just as the surgeon does, when he deliberately goes to work, in the right and best way, and cuts off the man's arm, and thus cures him and saves his life. Just so Christians should let the sinner see their compassion and tenderness, but they should take God's part, fully and decidedly. They should lay open to the sinner the worst of his case, expose his guilt and danger, and then lead him right up to the cross, and insist on instant submission. They must have firmness enough to do this work thoroughly; and, if they see the sinner distressed and in agony, still they must press him right on, and not give way in the least till he yields.
To do this often requires nerve. I have often been placed in circumstances where I have realized this. I have found myself surrounded with anxious sinners, in such distress as to make every nerve tremble; some overcome with emotion and lying on the floor; some applying camphor to prevent their fainting; others shrieking out as if they were just going to hell. Now, suppose any one should give false comfort in such a case as this? Suppose he had not nerve enough to bring them right up to the point of instant and absolute submission? How unfit would such a man be, to be trusted in such a case!
3. Sometimes sinners become deranged through despair and anguish of mind. Whenever this is the case, it is almost always because those who deal with them try to encourage them with false comfort, and thus lead them to such a conflict with the Holy Ghost. They try to hold them up, while God is trying to break them down. And, by and by, the sinner's mind gets confused with this contrariety of influences, and he either goes deranged, or is driven to despair.
4. If you are going to deal with sinners, remember that you are soon to meet them in Judgment, therefore be sure to treat them in such a way that if they are lost, it will be their own fault. Do not try to comfort them with false notions now, and have them reproach you with it then. Better to suppress your false sympathy, and let the naked truth "pierce even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow"
5. Sinner, if you converse with any Christians, and they tell you to do anything, first ask: "If I do that, shall I be saved?" You may be anxious, and not be saved. You may pray, and not be saved. You may read your Bible, and not be saved. You may use means, in your own way, and not be saved. Whatever they tell you to do, if you can do it and not be saved, do not attend to such instructions. They are calculated to give you false comfort, and divert your attention from the main thing to be done, and beguile you down to hell. Do not follow any such directions, lest you should die while doing so, for then there is no retrievement.
Finally; let a Christian never tell a sinner anything, or give him any direction, that will lead him to stop short of, or that does not include, submission to God. To let him stop at any point short of this, is infinitely dangerous. Suppose you are at an anxious meeting, or a prayer meeting, and you tell a sinner to pray, or to read, or to do anything that comes short of saving repentance, and he should fall and break his neck that night, of whom would his blood be required? A youth in New England once met a minister in the street, and asked him "what he should do to be saved?"
The minister told him to go home, and go into his room, and kneel down and give his heart to God. "Sir," said the boy, "I feel so bad, I am afraid I shall not live to get home." The minister saw his error, felt the rebuke thus unconsciously given by a youth, and then told him: "Well, then, give your heart to God here, and then go home to your room and tell Him of it."
It is enough to make one's heart bleed to see so many miserable comforters for anxious sinners "in whose answers there remaineth falsehood." What a vast amount of spiritual quackery there is in the world, and how many "forgers of lies" there are, "physicians of no value" (Job 13:4) who know no better than to comfort sinners with false hopes, and delude them with their "old wives' fables" (1 Timothy 4:7) and nonsense, or who give way to false tenderness and sympathy, till they have not firmness enough to see the sword of the Spirit applied, cutting men to the soul, and laying open the sinner's naked heart. Alas, that so many are ever put into the ministry, who have not skill enough to stand by and see the Spirit of God to do His work, in breaking up the old foundations, and crushing all the rotten hopes of a sinner, and breaking him down at the feet of Jesus.