STRANGE to say, the great number of those who are saved are just the most unlikely people in the world to have been saved, while a great number of those who perish were once just the very people whom, if natural disposition had anything to do with it, we should have expected to see in Heaven. Why, there is one who in his youth was a child of many follies.
Often did his mother weep over him, and cry and groan over her son’s wanderings; for what with a fierce high spirit that could brook neither bit nor bridle, what with perpetual rebellions and ebullitions of hot anger, she said, “My son, my son, what wilt thou be in thy riper years? Surely thou wilt dash in pieces law and order, and be a disgrace to thy father’s name.”
He grew up; in youth he was wild and wanton, but wonder of wonders! on a sudden he became a new man, changed, altogether changed; no more like what he was before than angels are like lost spirits. He sat at her feet, he cheered her heart, and the lost, fiery one became gentle, mild, humble as a little child, and obedient to God’s commandments. You say, wonder of wonders! But there is another. He was a fair youth; when but a child he talked of Jesus; often when his mother had him on her knee he asked her questions about Heaven; he was a prodigy, a wonder of piety in his youth.
As he grew up the tear rolled down his cheek under any sermon; he could scarcely bear to hear of death without a sigh; sometimes his mother caught him, as she thought, in prayer alone. And what is he now? He has just come from sin; he has become the debauched, desperate villain, has gone far into all manner of wickedness and lust, and sin, and has become more corrupt than other men could have made him; only his own evil spirit, once confined, has now developed itself, he has learned to play the lion in his manhood, as once he played the fox in his youth. It very frequently is so.
Some abandoned, wicked fellow, has had his heart broken, and been led to weep and has cried to God for mercy, and renounced his vile sin; whilst some fair maiden by his side hath heard the same sermon, and if there was a tear she brushed it away; she still continues just what she was, “without God and without hope in the world.” God has taken the base things of the world, and has just picked His people out of the very roughest of men, in order that He may prove that it is not natural disposition, but that “Salvation is of the Lord” alone.
With sinners, this doctrine is a great battering-ram against their pride. I will give you a figure. The sinner in his natural estate reminds me of a man who has a strong and well-nigh impenetrable castle into which he has fled.
There is the outer moat; there is a second moat; there are the high walls; and then afterwards there is the dungeon and keep, into which the sinner will retire. Now, the first moat that goes round the sinner’s trusting place is his good works. “Ah!” he says, “I am as good as my neighbor; twenty shillings in the pound down, ready money, I have always paid; I am no sinner; ‘I tithe mint and cummin;’ a good respectable gentleman I am indeed.” Well, when God comes to work with him, to save him, he sends his army across the first moat; and as they go through it, they cry, “Salvation is of the Lord;” and the moat is dried up, for if it be of the Lord, how can it be of good works? But when that is gone, he has a second entrenchment — ceremonies. “Well,” he says, “I will not trust in my good works, but I have been baptized, I have been confirmed; do not I take the sacrament? That shall be my trust.” “Over the moat! Over the moat!” And the soldiers go over again, shouting, “Salvation is of the Lord.” The second moat is dried up; it is all over with that. Now they come to the first strong wall; the sinner, looking over it, says, “I can repent, I can believe, whenever I like; I will save myself by repenting and believing.” Up come the soldiers of God, His great army of conviction, and they batter this wall to the ground, crying, “ ‘Salvation is of the Lord.’ Your faith and your repentance must all be given you, or else you will neither believe nor repent of sin.” And now the castle is taken; the man’s hopes are all cut off; he feels that it is not of self; the castle of self is overcome, and the great banner upon which is written “Salvation is of the Lord” is displayed upon the battlements.
But is the battle over? Oh, no; the sinner has retired to the keep, in the center of the castle; and now he changes his tactics. “I cannot save myself,” says he, “therefore I will despair; there is no salvation for me.” Now this second castle is as hard to take as the first, for the sinner sits down and says, “I can’t be saved, I must perish.” But God commands the soldiers to take this castle too, shouting, “Salvation is of the Lord;” though it is not of man, it is of God; “he is able to save, even to the uttermost,” though you cannot save yourself. This sword, you see, cuts two ways; it cuts pride down, and then it cleaves the skull of despair. If any man say he can save himself, it halveth his pride at once; and if another man say he cannot be saved, it dasheth his despair to the earth; for it affirms that he can be saved, seeing, “Salvation is of the Lord.”\parWHAT IS THE OBVERSE OF THIS TRUTH? Salvation is of God: then damnation is of man. If any of you perish, the blame will not lie at God’s door; if you are lost and cast away, you will have to bear all the blame and all the tortures of conscience yourself; you will lie forever in perdition, and reflect, “I have destroyed myself; I have made a suicide of my soul; I have been my own destroyer; I can lay no blame to God.” Remember, if saved, you must be saved by God alone, though if lost you have lost yourselves. “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die O house of Israel.”