WE can learn nothing of the Gospel, except by feeling its truths — no one truth of the Gospel is ever truly known and really learned, until we have tested and tried and proved it, and its power has been exercised upon us. I have heard of a naturalist, who thought himself exceedingly wise with regard to the natural history of birds, and yet he had learned all he knew in his study, and had never so much as seen a bird either flying through the air or sitting upon its perch. He was but a fool, although he thought himself exceedingly wise. And there are some men who, like him, think themselves great theologians; they might even pretend to take a doctor’s degree in divinity; and yet, if we came to the root of the matter, and asked them whether they ever saw or felt any of these things of which they talked, they would have to say, “No; I know these things in the letter, but not in the spirit; I understand them as a matter of theory, but not as things of my own consciousness and experience.” Be assured, that as the naturalist who was merely the student of other men’s observations knew nothing, so the man who pretends to religion, but has never entered into the depths and power of its doctrines, or felt the influence of them upon his heart, knows nothing whatever, and all the knowledge he pretendeth to is but varnished ignorance. There are some sciences that may be learned by the head, but the science of Christ crucified can only be learned by the heart.
No man can know the greatness of sin till he has felt it, for there is no measuring-rod for sin, except its condemnation in our own conscience, when the law of God speaks to us with a terror that may be felt.
Some men imagine that the Gospel was devised, in some way or other, to soften down the harshness of God towards sin. Ah! how mistaken the idea!
There is no more harsh condemnation of sin anywhere than in the Gospel. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” There lies the blackness; here stands the Lord Jesus Christ. What will He do with it?
Will He go and speak to it, and say, “This is no great evil; this blackness is but a little spot”? Oh! no; He looks at it, and He says, “This is terrible blackness, darkness that may be felt; this is an exceeding great evil.” Will He cover it up, then? Will He weave a mantle of excuse and then wrap it round about the iniquity? Ah! no; whatever covering there may have been He lifts it off, and He declares that when the spirit of truth is come He will convince the world of sin, and lay the sinner’s conscience bare and probe the wound to the bottom. What then will He do? He will do a far better thing than make an excuse, or than to pretend in any way to speak lightly of it. He will cleanse it all away, remove it entirely by the power and meritorious virtue of His own blood.
Nor does the Gospel in any way whatever give man a hope that the claims of the law will be in any way loosened. Some imagine that under the old dispensation God demanded great things of man — that He did bind upon man heavy burdens that were grievous to be borne — and they suppose that Christ came into the world to put upon the shoulders of men a lighter law, something which it would be more easy for them to obey — a law which they can more readily keep, or which, if they break, would not come upon them with such terrible threatenings. Ah, not so. The Gospel came not into the world to soften down the law. Till heaven and earth shall pass away, not one jot and tittle of the law shall fail. What God hath said to the sinner in the law, He saith to the sinner in the Gospel. If He declareth that “the soul that sinneth it shall die,” the testimony of the Gospel is not contrary to the testimony of the law. If He declares that whosoever breaketh the sacred law shall most assuredly be punished, the Gospel also demands blood for blood, and eye for eye, and tooth for tooth, and doth not relax a solitary jot or tittle of its demands, but is as severe and as terribly just as even the law itself. Do you reply to this, that Christ has certainly softened down the law? I reply, that ye know not, then, the mission of Christ. That is no softening of the law. It is, as it were, the grinding of the edge of the terrible sword of Divine justice, to make it sharper far than it seemed before. Christ hath not put out the furnace; He rather seemeth to heat it seven times hotter. Before Christ came sin seemed unto me to be but little; but when He came sin became exceedingly sinful, and all its dread heinousness started out before the light.
But, says one, “Surely the Gospel does in some degree remove the greatness of our sin? Does it not soften the punishment of sin?” Ah! no.
Moses says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die;” and his sermon is dread and terrible. He sits down. And now comes Jesus Christ, the man of a loving countenance. What says He with regard to the punishment of sin?
Our Lord Jesus Christ was all love, but He was all honesty too. “Never man spake like this man,” when He came to speak of the punishment of the lost. What other prophet was the author of such dread expressions as these? — “He shall burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” — These shall go away into everlasting punishment;” or these — “Where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.” Stand at the feet of Jesus when He tells you of the punishment of sin, and the effect of iniquity, and you may tremble there far more than you would have done if Moses had been the preacher, and if Sinai had been in the background to conclude the sermon. No, the Gospel of Christ in no sense whatever helps to make sin less. The proclamation of Christ is the same as the utterance of Ezekiel of old — “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great.”
Our sins are great; every sin is great; but there are some that in our apprehension seem to be greater than others. There are crimes that the lip of modesty could not mention. I might go far in describing the degradation of human nature in the sins which it has invented. It is amazing how the ingenuity of man seems to have exhausted itself in inventing fresh crimes.
Surely there is not the possibility of the invention of a new sin? But if there be, ere long man will invent it, for man seemeth exceedingly cunning, and full of wisdom in the discovery of means of destroying himself and the endeavor to injure his Maker. But there are some sins that show a diabolical extent of degraded ingenuity — some sins of which it were a shame to speak, of which it were disgraceful to think. But “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” There may be some sins of which a man cannot speak, but there is no sin which the blood of Christ cannot wash away. Blasphemy, however profane; lust, however bestial; covetousness, however far it may have gone into theft and rapine; breach of the commandments of God, however much of riot it may have run, all these may be pardoned and washed away through the blood of Jesus Christ. In all the long list of human sins, though that be long as time, there standeth but one sin that is unpardonable, and that one no sinner has committed if he feels within himself a longing for mercy; for that sin once committed, the soul becomes hardened, dead, and seared, and never desireth afterwards to find peace with God. I therefore declare to thee, Oh trembling sinner, that however great thine iniquity may be, whatever sin thou mayest have committed in all the list of guilt, however far thou mayest have exceeded all thy fellow-creatures, though thou mayest have distanced the Pauls and Magdalenes and everyone of the most heinous culprits in the black race of sin, yet the blood of Christ is able now to wash thy sin away.
Mark! I speak not lightly of thy sin, it is exceedingly great; but I speak still more loftily of the blood of Christ. Great as are thy sins, the blood of Christ is greater still. Thy sins are like great mountains, but the blood of Christ is like Noah’s flood; twenty cubits upwards shall this blood prevail, and the top of the mountains of thy sin shall be covered.
Whatever I may not be, one thing I know I am — a sinner, guilty, consciously guilty, and often miserable on account of that guilt. Well, then, the Scripture says: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” “And when thine eye of faith is dim, Still trust in Jesus, sink or swim; Thus, at His footstool, how the knee, And Israel ’s God thy peace shall be. ” Let me put my entire trust in the bloody sacrifice which He offered on my behalf. No dependence will I have in my prayings, my doings, my feelings, my weepings, my preachings, my thinkings, my Bible readings, nor all that.
I would desire to have good works, and yet in my good works I will not put a shadow of trust. “Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling. ” And if there be any power in Christ to save I am saved; if there be an everlasting arm extended by Christ, and if that Savior who hung there was “God over all, blessed for ever,” and if His blood is still exhibited before the throne of God as the sacrifice for sin, then perish I cannot, till the throne of God shall break, and till the pillars of God’s justice shall crumble.