IN all worldly things men are always enough awake to understand their own interests. There is scarce a merchant who reads the paper who does not read it in some way or other with a view to his own personal concerns.
If he finds that by the rise or fall of the markets he will be either a gainer or a loser, that part of the day’s news will be the most important to him. In politics, in everything, in fact, that concerns temporal affairs, personal interest usually leads the van. Men will always be looking out for themselves, and personal and home interests will generally engross the major part of their thoughts. But in religion it is otherwise. In religion men love far rather to believe abstract doctrines, and to talk of general truths, than the searching inquiries which examine their own personal interest in it.
You will hear many men admire the preacher who deals in generalities, but when he comes to press home searching questions, by-and-by they are offended. If we stand and declare general facts, such as the universal sinnership of mankind, or the need of a Savior, they will give an assent to our doctrine, and possibly they may retire greatly delighted with the discourse, because it has not affected them; but how often will our audience gnash their teeth, and go away in a rage, because, like the Pharisees with Jesus, they perceive, concerning a faithful minister, that he spoke of them. How foolish this is. If in all other matters we like personalities — if in everything else we look to our own concerns, how much more should we do so in religion? for surely every man must give an account for himself at the day of judgment. We must die alone; we must rise at the day of resurrection one by one, and each one for himself must appear before the bar of God; and each one must either have said to Him, as an individual, “Come ye blessed;” or else he must be appalled with the thundering sentence, “Depart, ye cursed.” If there were such a thing as national salvation; if it could be possible that we could be saved in the gross and in the bulk, that so, like the sheaves of corn, the few weeds that may grow with the stubble would be gathered in for the sake of the wheat, then, indeed, it might not be so foolish for us to neglect our own personal interests; but if the sheep must, everyone of them, pass under the hand of Him that telleth them, if every man must stand in his own person before God, to be tried for his own acts — by everything that is rational, by everything that conscience would dictate, and self-interest would command, let us each of us look to our own selves, that we be not deceived, and that we find not ourselves at last miserably cast away.
A warning may be all that could be desired. When in time of war an army is attacked in the night, and cut off and destroyed whilst asleep, if it were impossible for them to be aware of the attack, and if they had used all diligence in placing their sentinels, but nevertheless the foe were so wary as to destroy them, we should weep; we should attach no blame to anyone, but should deeply regret, and should give to that host our fullest pity. But if, on the other hand, they had posted their sentinels, and the sentinels were wide awake, and gave to the sleepy soldiers every warning that could be desired, but nevertheless the army were cut off, although we might for common humanity regret the loss thereof, yet at the same time we should be obliged to say, if they were foolish enough to sleep when the sentinels had warned them; if they folded their arms in presumptuous sloth, after they had had sufficient and timely notice of the progress of their bloodthirsty enemy, then in their dying, we cannot pity them: their blood must rest upon their own heads. So it is with you. If men perish and have not been sufficiently warned to escape from the wrath to come, the Christian may pity them even when they stand before the bar of God; although the fact of their not having been warned will not fully excuse them, yet it will go far to diminish their eternal miseries, which otherwise might have fallen upon their heads; for we know it is more tolerable for unwarned Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than it is for any city, or any nation that has had the Gospel proclaimed in its ears. “He heard the sound of the trumpet.” In far-off lands the trumpet sound of warning is not heard. Alas! there are myriads of our fellow-creatures who have never been warned by God’s ambassadors, who know not that wrath abideth on them, and who do not yet understand the only way and method of salvation.
The trumpet was not only heard, but its warning was understood. When the man heard the trumpet, he understood by it that the enemy was at hand, and yet he took not warning.
In many of your cases the warning has been very frequent. If the man heard the trumpet sound once and did not regard it, possibly we might excuse him; but how many have heard the trumpet sound of the gospel very frequently. There you are, young man. You have had many years of a pious mother’s teaching, many years of a pious minister’s exhortations. Wagon loads of sermons have been exhausted upon you. You have had many sharp providences, many terrible sicknesses. Often when the death bell has tolled for your friend, your conscience has been aroused. To you warnings are not unusual things; they are very common. O my readers! if a man should hear the gospel but once, his blood would be upon his own head for rejecting it; but of how much sorer punishment shall you be thought worthy who have heard it many and many a time! Ah, I may well weep, when I think how many sermons you have listened to, many of you, how many times you have been cut to the heart. A hundred times every year you have gone up to the house of God, and far oftener than that, and you have just added a hundred billets to the eternal pile. A hundred times the trumpet has sounded in your ears, and a hundred times you have turned away to sin again, to despise Christ, to neglect your eternal interests, and to pursue the pleasures and the concerns of this world. Oh, how mad this is, how mad! if a man had but once poured out his heart before you concerning your eternal interests, and if he had spoken to you earnestly, and you had rejected his message, then, even then, ye had been guilty. But what shall we say to you upon whom the shafts of the Almighty have been exhausted? Oh, what shall be done unto this barren ground that hath been watered with shower after shower, and that hath been quickened with sunshine after sunshine? What shall be done unto him who being often rebuked, still hardeneth his neck? Shall he not be suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy, and shall it not then be said, “His blood lieth at his own door, his guilt is on his own head”?
And I would just have you recollect one thing more. This warning that you have had so often, has come to you in time. “Ah,” said an infidel once, “God never regards man. If there be a God, he would never take notice of men.” Said a Christian minister, who was sitting opposite to him in the carriage, “The day may come, sir, when you will learn the truth of what you have just said.” “I do not understand your allusion, sir,” said he. “Well, sir, the day may come, when you may call, and He will refuse; when you may stretch out your hands and He will not regard you, but as He has said in the Book of Proverbs, so will He do, ‘Because I called, and ye refused; because I stretched out my hands, and no man regarded, I also will mock at your calamity, I will laugh when your fear cometh.’ “ But your warning has not come too late. You are not warned on a sick bed, at the eleventh hour, when there is but a bare possibility of salvation, but you are warned in time, you are warned today, you have been warned for these many years that are now past. If God should send a preacher to the damned in hell, that were an unnecessary addition to their misery.
Surely, if one could go and preach the gospel through the fields of Gehenna, and tell them of a Savior they had despised, and of a gospel that is now beyond their reach, that were taunting poor souls with a vain attempt to increase their unutterable woe; but to preach the gospel now is to preach in a hopeful period; for “now is the accepted time: now is the day of salvation.”
Warn the boatman before he enters the current, and then, if he is swept down the rapids, he destroys himself. Warn the man before he drinks the cup of poison, tell him it is deadly: and then, if he drinks it, his death lies at his own door. And so, let us warn you before you depart this life; let us preach to you while as yet your bones are full of marrow, and the sinews of your joints are not loosed. We have then warned you in time, and so much the more shall your guilt be increased, because the warning was timely; it was frequent, it was earnest, it was appropriate, it was arousing, it was continually given to you, and yet you sought not to escape from the wrath to come.
Some say, “Well, I did not attend to the warning, because I did not believe there was any necessity for it.” Ah! You were told that after death there was a judgment, and you did not believe there was any necessity that you should be prepared for that judgment. You were told that by the works of the law there shall no flesh living be justified, and that only through Christ can sinners be saved; and you did not think there was any necessity for Christ. Well you ought to have thought there was a necessity. You knew there was a necessity in your inner consciousness. You talked very large things when you stood up as an unbeliever, a professed unbeliever: but you know there was a still small voice that while you spake belied your tongue.
You are well aware that in the silent watches of the night you have often trembled; in a storm at sea you have been on your knees to pray to a God whom on the land you have laughed at; and when you have been sick nigh unto death, you have said,” Lord, have mercy upon me;” and so you have prayed, that you have believed it after all. But if you did not believe it, you ought to have believed it. There was enough in reason to have taught you that there was a hereafter; the Book of God’s revelation was plain enough to have taught it to you, and if you have rejected God’s Book, and rejected the voice of reason and of conscience, your blood is on your own head.
Your excuse is idle. It is worse than that, it is profane and wicked, and still on your own head be your everlasting torment. “But,” cries another, “I did not like the trumpet. I did not like the Gospel that was preached.” Says one, “I did not like certain doctrines in the Bible.
I thought the minister preached too harsh doctrines sometimes; I did not agree with the Gospel; I thought the Gospel ought to have been altered, and not have been just what it was.” You did not like the trumpet, did you?
Well, but God made the trumpet, God made the Gospel; and inasmuch as ye did not like what God made, it is an idle excuse. What was that to you what the trumpet was, so long as it warned you? And surely, if it had been time of war, and you had heard a trumpet sounded to warn you of the coming of the enemy, you would not have sat still, and said, “Now I believe that is a brass trumpet; I would like to have had it made of silver.”
No, but the sound would have been enough for you, and up you would have been to escape from the danger. And so it must be now with you. It is an idle pretense that you did not like it. You ought to have liked it, for God made the Gospel what it is.
But you say, “I did not like the man that blew it.” Well, if you did not like one messenger of God, there are many in this city. Could you not find one you did like? You did not like one man’s manner: it was too theatrical; you did not like another’s: it was too doctrinal; you did not like another’s: it was too practical — there are plenty of them, you may take which you do like, but if God has sent the men, and told them how to blow, and if they blow to the best of their ability, it is all in vain for you to reject their warnings, because they do not blow the way you like. Ah, we do not find fault with the way a man speaks, if we are in a house that is on fire. If the man calls, “Fire! Fire!” we are not particular what note he takes, we do not think what a harsh voice he has got. You would think anyone a confounded fool who should lie in his bed, to be burned, because he said he did not like the way the man cried “Fire.” Why his business was to have been out of bed and down the stairs at once, as soon as he heard it.
But another says: “I did not like the man himself; I did not like the man that blew the trumpet; I could hear him, but I had a personal dislike to him, and so I did not take any notice of what the trumpet said.” Verily, God will say to thee at last: “Thou fool, what hadst thou to do with that man; to his own master he stands or falls; thy business was with thyself.” What would you think of a man who has fallen overboard from a ship, and when he is drowning, some sailor throws him a rope, and there it is. Well, he says, in the first place, “I do not like that rope; I don’t think that rope was made at the best manufactory; there is some tar on it too, I do not like it;” and in the next place, “I do not like that sailor who threw the rope over, I am sure he is not a kind-hearted man, I do not like the look of him at all;” and then comes a gurgle and a groan, and down he is at the bottom of the sea; and when he was drowned, they said that it served him right, and if he would not lay hold of the rope, but would be making such foolish and absurd objections, when it was a matter of life and death, then on his own head be his blood. And so shall it be with you at last. You are so busy with criticizing the minister, and his style, and his doctrine, that your own soul perishes. Remember you may get into hell by criticism, but you will never criticize your soul out of it. You may there make the most you can of it.
You may be there and say: “I did not like the minister, I did not like his manner, I did not like his matter;” but all your dislikings will not get one drop of water to cool your burning tongue, nor serve to mitigate the unalleviated torments of that world of agony.
There are many other people who say, “Ah, well, I did none of those things, but I had a notion that the trumpet sound ought to be blown to everybody else, but not to me.” Ah, that is a very common notion. “All men think all men mortal but themselves,” said a good poet; and all men think all men need the Gospel, but not themselves. Let each of us recollect that the Gospel has a message to each one of us. “Well,” says another,” “but I was so busy, I had so much to do, that I could not possibly attend to my soul’s concerns.” What will you say of the man who had so much to do that he could not get out of the burning house, but was burnt to ashes? What will you say of the man who had so much to do, that, when he was dying, he had not time to send for a physician? Why, you will say, “Then he ought not to have had so much to do.” And if any man in the world has a business which causes him to lose his own soul for want of time, let him lay this question to his heart, “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
But it is false — it is false — men have got time. It is the want of will, not want of way. You have time, sir, have you not, despite all your business, to spend in pleasure? You have time to read your newspaper — have you no time to read your Bible? You have time to sing a song — have you no time to pray a prayer? Why, you know when farmer Brown met farmer Smith in the market one day, he said to him, “Farmer Smith, I can’t think how it is you find time for hunting. Why, man, what with sowing and mowing and reaping and plowing, and all that, my time is so fully occupied on my farm, that I have no time for hunting.” “Ah,” said he, “Brown, if you liked hunting as much as I do, if you could not find time, you’d make it.” And so it is with religion; the :reason why men cannot find time for it is, because they do not like it well enough. If they liked it, they would find time. And besides, what time does it want? What time does it require? Can I not pray to God over my ledger? Can I not snatch a text at my very breakfast, and think over it all day? May I not, even when I am busy in the affairs of the world, be thinking of my soul, and casting myself upon a Redeemer’s blood and atonement? It wants no time. There may be some time required; some time for my private devotions, and for communion with Christ; but when I grow in grace, I shall think it right to have more and more time; the more I can possibly get, the happier I shall be, and I shall never make the excuse that I have no time. “Well,” says another, “but I thought I had time enough; you do not want me, sir, to be religious in my youth, do you? I am a lad, and may I not have a little frolic and sow my wild oats as well as anybody else?” Well — yes, yes; but, at the same time, the best place for frolic that I know of, is where a Christian lives; the finest happiness in all the world is the happiness of a child of God. You may have your pleasures — oh, yes! you shall have them doubled and trebled, if you are a Christian. You shall not have things that worldlings call pleasures, but you shall have some that are a thousand times better. But only look at that sorrowful picture. There, far away in the dark gulf of woe, lies a young man, and he cries, “Ah, I meant to have repented when I was out of my apprenticeship, and died before my time was up.” “Ah!” says another by his side, “and I thought, whilst I was a journeyman, that when I came to be a master, I would then think of the things of Christ, but I died before I had got money enough to start for myself.” And then a merchant behind wails with bitter woe, and says: “Ah!
I thought I would be religious when I had got enough to retire on, and live in the country; then I should have time to think of God, when I had got all my children married out, and my concerns settled about me, but here I am shut up in hell; and now, what are all my delays worth, and what is all the time I gained for all the paltry pleasures in the world? Now I have lost my soul over them.” We experience great vexation if we are unpunctual in many places; but we cannot conceive what must be the horror and dismay of men who find themselves too late in the next world! Ah, friends, if I knew there was one here who said, “I shall repent next Wednesday,” I would have him feel in a dreadful state till that Wednesday came; for what if he should die? Oh, what if he should die? Would his promise of a Wednesday’s repentance save him from a Thursday damnation?
Now, the sinner will perish — he will perish certainly; but, last of all, he will perish without excuse — his blood shall be on his own head. When a man is bankrupt, if he can say: “It is not through reckless trading — it has been entirely through the dishonesty of one I trusted that I am what I am;” he takes some consolation, and he says, “I cannot help it.” But, O my readers! if you make bankrupts of your own souls, after you have been warned, then your own eternal bankruptcy shall lie at your own door.
Should never so great a misfortune come upon us, if we can trace it to the providence of God, we bear it cheerfully; but if we have inflicted it upon ourselves, then how fearful is it! And let every man remember that, if he perish after having heard the Gospel, he will be his own murderer. Sinner, thou wilt drive the dagger into thine heart thyself. If thou despisest the Gospel, thou art preparing fuel for thine own bed of flames, thou art hammering out the chain for thine own everlasting binding: and when damned, thy mournful reflection will be this: “I have damned myself, I cast myself into this pit; for I rejected the Gospel; I despised the message; I trod under foot the Son of man; I would have none of His rebukes. I despised His Sabbaths; I would not hearken to His exhortations, and now I perish by mine own hand, the miserable suicide of my own soul.”