I have sinned. What shall I do unto Thee, O Thou preserver of men? — (Job 7:20.) Job battled well for his own character against the unjust remarks of his friends. When they said he was a hypocrite, he would not have it. When they declared that he must have been indulging some secret sin, he was somewhat tart in his own defense, as well, indeed, he might be, for God’s own witness concerning Job was that he was a perfect and an upright man.
And how should he who possessed such a character willingly endure to see it torn to pieces by his envious friends? But, mark you, he who could afford to be thus brave before his fellow-men, and to stand up for his character as judged by them, adopted a very different tone when he came to deal with God. Then he was all humility; then he laid his mouth in the dust; then he put forth no self-defenses; but he came before God with broken-hearted language and with the accents of contrition. “I have sinned,” said he;” what shall I do unto Thee, O Thou preserver of men.”
We do not intend, however, speaking about Job to-night. This language might well become the mouth of any Christian under sharp affliction who is asking God, “Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me,” and who, by the light of God’s Spirit, begins to discover that there were evils within his heart which he had not seen, but which it was intended by affliction to bring to his knowledge that they might be put away.
Beloved, many a time through life some of us have had to cry, “I have sinned. What shall I do unto Thee, O Thou preserver of men ?” But this morning I turned my text into a sermon for seeking souls, and I feel in that mind again to-night, as if I could leave the godly to look after the ungodly- leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness to go after that which has gone astray, and forget the pieces of money that are in the treasury to light the candle and sweep the house yet again to find that piece which has been lost. Pray for me, my brethren, that if ! was unsuccessful this morning, though I am sure ! was not, yet we may be doubly successful to-night, and that some may be reconciled to God this evening. I cannot bear the thought of your coming and going — continually coming to this house in such crowds — unless you are converted; and when I am every now and then laid aside, and compelled to be silent for a little while, oh, how I bite my tongue that I cannot preach to you, and feel to fret within my spirit that ever I should have wasted any opportunity, and counted it to be wasted unless I have addressed myself to the unconverted and warned them to lay hold on eternal life and escape lest they perish for ever.
It may not be long that we may be spared to address you, and it may not be long that you may live to be addressed by anybody. Therefore, with deep concern for your souls would I speak again to you unsaved ones. We will give the Sabbath up to you, and count it well used if some of you be led to bow before the Savior and to find life in Him.
Our text contains three things very clearly: a confession — “I have sinned”; an inquiry — -” What shall I do unto Thee? “; a title” O Thou preserver of men.”
I. There is, first, a confession: “I have sinned.”
Now, observe, when I take up the words of this confession, there is nothing very particular in them. “I have sinned.” There are only three words. Anybody could use them. The worst of men have used them. Saul, the king who was cast off of God for ever, once said, insincerely, “I have sinned.” And you remember that Judas, the son of perdition, took the pieces of money for which he had sold his Master and threw them down in the temple and said, “I have sinned,” and went and hanged himself. There is nothing in the words. You may remember the publican’s prayer, and yet not be justified like the publican. The best form that was ever written, or the best extemporaneous effusion that was ever poured forth from the lip, may have nothing at all in it. There are many things in this world that are like sacks that are labeled, but they have not the goods within that they purport, to hold; and what is the value of them? In your shops you have many dummies, perhaps, and nobody knows that they are such; but oh, what thousands of dummy prayers there are! They are exactly like prayers’ they are the very same words, word for word, which the best of men would use in the most acceptable prayers; but for all that they are only dummies.
We cannot learn much, then, from the mere words of this confession, unless you look deeper, and look into the inner sense of it; but this much I do learn from it. “I have sinned.” It was an acceptable confession, but it was very short. Therefore, I gather that length of words will never be necessary to true confession of sin. “Short and sweet “ — let me alter it: short and bitter let the confession be: bitter with true repentance, and then as short as you will. Many words are seldom associated with much heart.
Prayers can often be measured, but they must be measured backwards. The longer, frequently, the worse, and the truer, often, the more brief. “I have sinned.”
Now, there is nobody here that can have an excuse for saying, “I cannot go to God and pray; I cannot go and confess because I am no orator.” It wants no oratory. Why, sirs, if none but orators could be saved, where would many be? Where would the members of the House of Commons go to? Where would many go to of those men who speak, but have not the power to do anything but weary men with their long sentences? No, God wants no rhetoric. He wants you but to say what you feel, and pour your heart out as men pour out water. How it bubbles and gurgles as it goes.
Well, let it do so; let it make much noise, or no noise: it matters not. And so let the heart run out of the mouth in that way: that is the best praying in all the world. Shout, if you like. None, therefore, can be excused for want of utterance.
Now, let us think about this prayer of Job; and the first remark about it shall be that it was very personal. “I have sinned.” Oh, how easy it is to join in a “general confession,” and, then to feel, “Oh, yes, I have only confessed now what everybody else in the church has confessed too, so I am not particularly bad.” But that man truly confesses who says, “Whatever others may have done, I have sinned.” Charity makes excuses for others, but sincerity makes no excuse for itself. I can see the imperfections of my neighbor, but I will shut my eyes to them as far as I can. My own imperfections I desire to look upon with both my eyes steadily, and so to see them that from my very soul I may say with emphasis, “I have sinned,” whether anybody else in the world has sinned or not. “I have sinned.” Oh, I hope there are some people standing about in this Tabernacle to-night who, unnoticed by anybody else, are saying in their hearts, “Ah, true, I have sinned. If there is nobody else in the upper gallery that has sinned, I have. If there is nobody else anywhere in the house that is a transgressor, I am one. I have sinned. I have sinned.” Personal confession is that which God accepts.
In Job’s case, again, it was confession made to the Lord. “I have sinned,” he said to that God whom he called the “preserver of men.” The very point of confession is to feel that you have sinned against God. Many a man is sorry for having offended his neighbor who was never sorry for having offended his God. It is a curious thing that, if I call a man a sinner he is not angry, but if I called him a criminal he would be ready to knock me down, because a crime is a thing against my fellow-man, and we think a great deal of that; but a sin is an offense against God, and therefore we think very little comparatively of it. It should not be so. We should look upon sin against God as the highest form of criminality, for such, indeed, it is, and in every disobedience there is a direct attack upon the person of God. Hear how David puts it: “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight,” — as if sin, though it hurt others, had not the virus in it in that aspect, but it came to its full poison as being an offense against God Himself. O sinner, canst thou say this? Thou hast neglected thy God; thou hast lived as if there were no God; thou hast despised His reign; thou hast forgotten His will; thou hast violated His law; thou hast refused His mercy; and this it is that will damn thy soul except thou repent of it. Therefore in thy confession make sure that thou go unto God and say, “My God, my Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before Thee.”
Now, next, Job’s confession was wrought in him by the Holy Spirit. And this is necessary to every true confession. “No man can call Jesus Lord but by the Holy Ghost.” So says the Scripture. And I will utter a saying that is quite as true as that: no man can truly say “I have sinned,” but by the Holy Ghost. Confession of sin is as certainly the work of God as the creation of the world. Man will not acknowledge his guilt. He is proud, self-righteous.
He says, “Who is the Lord, and what is it that I have done if I have broken His law? I care not for Him.” But from the soul to say, “I have erred; I have done amiss: my God, I do confess it “ — this is what only the Spirit of God can give. Oh, may the Spirit of God grant that to each one of you!
It shall be a sure sign of everlasting life in your soul.
Job’s confession, hence, was deeply sincere, and accompanied with a great amount of feeling. I think I can see the patriarch’s face now. He had not shed a tear through all his losses. From that brave man’s face not one single tear had trickled, although he had seen all his wealth suddenly melt away; but I think I see the big drop standing in both eyes when he turns to God and says, “I have sinned. What shall I do unto Thee, O Thou preserver of men ?” Bunyan truly puts Mr. Wet-eyes as one who carried the petitions to King Shaddai when the city of Mansoul was besieged; and although I stand not here to speak for actual and for literal tears, for some eyes have but few of them, yet that man whose confession has no feeling in it, I think I may guess that it has no life in it. Can I, if God has quickened me, think I may sin without being grieved? God forbid I ever should. I loathe from my soul to hear some people talk about their sins. Why, I think I have known even some evangelists who, talking to others about their sins, have spoken of what they used to do as if they were almost proud of having been the blackguards that they said they were before they were converted, and talked about their sins as Chelsea pensioners might talk about their battles. Oh, God forbid that we should ever do that! Whenever we think of what we have been, let us blush, or else Satan has taken away from us a very precious thing, which is not a grace, but it is half of one; I mean shame. There ought to be a blessed shamefacedness about Christians when they make confession of their sin. And if you do not cover your brow and tremble when you do say to God, “I have sinned,” then surely that forehead of brass of yours is appointed to be a target for the eternal thunderbolts in that day when God shall come to avenge Himself upon all the proud and stout-hearted among the sons of men. Yes, Job’s was a sincere and feeling confession.
And I shall close this by saying it was a believing confession, for, note, he says, “O Thou preserver of men,” and, as I shall have to show to you, that was the gleam of light that carne into Job’s mind. Old Master Wilcox says, “Whenever thou hast a sense of sin, look to the cross; and if thou dost see thy sin and dost not see thy Savior, away with such a seeing of sin!” And I say so too. Oh, it is the right thing as a sinner to see Jesus, but to see ,fin only may drive you to despair and to self-murder, like another Judas. To see sin and to see thy Savior — that is true repentance, evangelical repentance, the repentance that needs not to be repented of. I have heard say that music never sounds so sweet as when it comes over water; and surely the notes of pardon never sound so sweet to a soul as when they come across the floods of deep soul sorrow, Jesus is precious when you see Him through your tears. I know of nothing that gives such beauty to Christ, or, rather, that doth so give clearance to the eye that it can see the beauty of Christ, as tears in the eyes — the tears of confession of sin.
Oh, to have, then, to-night, just such a confession ! Somebody says, “Well, I wish I could confess my sin; it would greatly relieve my mind.” Dear friend, go and confess your sin. “To whom?” you ask. Well, not to me. I have got enough in my own heart that is bad, without having anything of yours. No, not to me: I could not stand it. I cannot understand how a priest can make his ear the common cesspool for the parish; for that is what the man has to do. He just takes in all the draft and sewage of all his congregation into his own soul, and, if he does not become the most polluted creature in the world through it, it is because he was so to begin with. God deliver us from making such confessions. If you have anything to confess of wrong you have done to your fellow-men, go and confess it.
And, what is more, go and make restitution.
I heard of a country minister who preached in a barn one night, and on the way home he overtook a man who, apparently, did not want him to walk with him; but he did, and he noticed that the man had something or other under his smock frock. By-and-bye they came to a cottage; the preacher had to go another way, and at last the man said, “The fact of it is, sir, I am carrying a spade under here which I borrowed from a neighbor and never returned, and therefore practically stole; and when I heard your sermon I took the spade home. I could not sleep till it was returned.”
Now, such a thing as that you are bound to do to your fellow-men. If you have wronged anybody go and set that right, if you expect mercy. But still, the confession of your heart must be to God. Get into your chamber and pour out your sins before God, into the ear of that High Priest who cannot be polluted by what you tell Him because He is incapable of pollution. He will hear it, and, what is more, He will give you an absolution which is worth having. He will effectually cleanse you from every trace of sin.
Thus much upon the confession.
II. Now, the second part of our subject is an inquiry. When a soul feels its sin, it naturally is led to say, “What must I do to be saved?”
The text says, “What shall I do unto Thee, O Thou preserver of men ?”
This shows that the questioner was willing to do anything that he could do.
But yet he was bewildered, for he asks, “What shall I do ?” as though he did not know what to do but look this way or that way or the other. “What shall I do ?” O soul, if God has awakened you, and you do not know the Gospel, it will be little wonder if you are like one in a maze, not knowing which way to go; and you will cry like those we read of just now, “Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved?” And it shows, too, that the person using this question surrendered at discretion, for he says, “What shall I do?” as much as to say, “Lord, I make no terms with Thee, no stipulations, no bargains. Only save me. I have sinned. Do what Thou wilt with me, only have mercy on me. Lord, I throw it up. I have done with the fight against Thee now. Only tell me how I may be reconciled, and here stands Thy servant. Do as Thou wilt with me, but have pity on my soul.
What shall I do unto Thee, O Thou preserver of men ?”
Now, this question may be answered in this way: “You can do nothing at all.” It may be so answered. It is not the full answer. It may be so answered, and must be so answered if the meaning of it be, “What shall I do to escape from God? I have sinned: whither shall I flee? Shall I dive into the grave and hope to hide myself in the unfathomable mines of deathshade?
Shall I fly beyond the sea, o’er trackless waves, or shall I, in order to conceal myself, plunge into the deepest hell, hoping there to escape Thy wrath ?” In vain, in vain, in vain. You cannot escape from God. It was said of the old Caesars that all the world was only a great prison for Caesar — that he could always find out the offending party. And so the whole universe is but a great prison for sinners. God can find you out, and will.
You cannot escape from Him. Oh, then, let the question stand thus: “What shall I do by way of expiation for my sin? Suppose I were to suffer ?”
Years of suffering will make no atonement for your sin. You may lie on the hard bed, in the hospital, for twenty years together. No sin will be put away in that way. You might scourge yourself and wear a hair shirt and put yourself through innumerable torments, but no sin would vanish so. ]’his bloodstain comes not out with any human washing. There is only one blood that can fetch out the bloodstain of sin, and it is the blood of Christ. “What shall I do?” asks the soul. “Shall I keep the commandments for the future?” If you do, you will only do what you ought to do. Pay what you may, it is all due already; and besides, you will not keep the commandments for the future. You will continue still to be imperfect and to be sinful. With the best intentions in the world you will still go astray. It is hopeless, therefore, for you to attempt to discharge your debts before God in that way. When Thomas Oliver, the famous Wesleyan preacher, was converted he had been in his early days a most graceless man, and had many times robbed his creditors, but on being converted he set to work to pay every one. And he did. He discharged all his liabilities in full, and traveled many miles to pay a man a sixpence that he had owed to him, in order to be clear. But you can never clear your debts before God. They are too heavy for any human payment. There they are; and if you ask, “What can I do to put away my sin ?” our answer is, Nothing: you can do nothing.
And, best of all, there is no need you should, for there is One who paid the debt; there is One who discharged the liabilities before you were born. And for every soul that trusts in Jesus his debts were paid on Calvary’s bloody tree, and the receipt, the receipted bill, was nailed up upon that cross, and is there now; for Christ has “taken away the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, and nailed it to His cross”; and there it is freeing His people from all charges for ever. Happy is the man that is a believer in Christ.
But take this question again: “What shall I do?” I do not think it is a full answer to say, “You can do nothing.” What did Peter say? “Men and brethren, what shall we do ?” was the question put to Peter. Did Peter say, Sinner, nothing do, Either great or small?
No, he did not say that. He would not have spoken an untruth if he had, in the sense we have already spoken of; but still that is not quite the right answer. When the Philippian jailer said to Paul, “What must I do to be saved ?” Paul did not say, “Nothing at all.” No, he had got something that the man had to do, and it was this: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” And Peter had a reply to the crowd in the streets. It was, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you.” I think Peter must have been a Baptist. Surely he spoke out more plainly than some could very well do who profess to preach the Gospel.
So then, in answer to the sinner’s question, “What shall I do unto God ?” we reply, Go to your Father and confess your sin. You cannot do less. Tell Him you deserve His wrath. Do you feel you do? If not, do not be a hypocrite. Go and confess that you have broken His law, especially by acts of omission. Make a clean breast of it. Plead guilty. Stand at the bar and say, “Guilty.” And when you have done this, you are bidden to repent.
That is, there must be a thorough change of mind as to all this. The sin you loved must be hated. That which gave you pleasure must now cause you pain; and you must, by God’s strength, turn away from these sins and have done with them. “Repent,” said the apostle. And then Paul said, “Believe”; and that, you have been told a thousand times, is to trust. Trust yourself in the hands of Jesus; rely upon Christ, who was the substitutionary sacrifice for sin. Depend upon Him. And then it is added, “Be baptized,” for the Gospel, mark you, is: “He that with his heart believeth, and with his mouth confesseth, shall be saved.” You must confess Christ as well as believe in Christ. And it is put thus, again, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” There ought to be, there should be, an open declaration before men of that faith which you have in your heart towards God. And it is a small thing, after all, though there be some that kick at it. No doubt some Christians here will tell me to leave it out; and shall I leave it out to please you? God forbid. I am responsible to someone higher than you; and as Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you,” so say I the same to every soul here that asks the way of salvation. And as the Master said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” it is as much as my soul is worth to leave out a single clause of it. I will put it as He bade me put it:, and preach it to you thus.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be baptized in acknowledgment of this, your faith, for there must be the open confession as well as the secret confidence in Jesus Christ.
Now, this is what you are to do; but this still is nothing by way of merit.
There is no merit in believing: there is no merit in repenting. The merit lies in Jesus. The power to save lies in the work of the Holy Spirit in your soul.
Yet still the Holy Ghost saves nobody while he is asleep, and no man is dragged into Heaven by his ears. We are made willing in the day of God’s power. The Holy Ghost does not repent: He has nothing to repent of. We repent, and He leads us to it. The Holy Ghost does not trust. Why should He trust? It is we that trust; but He works the trust in us.
So, then, as an answer to this question, “I have sinned. What shall I do unto Thee ?” the answer is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
III. But now, finally, we have in our text a title: “O Thou preserver of men.”
Ancient saints were accustomed to address the Lord by different titles, and they generally selected names that were suitable to their condition. Now, when a man is sad he looks round upon God to see if there is anything in God’s character or God’s dealings that would give him hope; and Job lights on this: “God is the preserver of men.” That is to say, “I am a sinner, but I am still alive.”
Lord, am I yet alive — Not in torments, not in hell ?
Still doth Thy good Spirit strive, With the chief of sinners dwell ?
Then, you see, there is a hope. O Thou who hast preserved me up to this day, what hast Thou done it for? I have sinned, but oh, I beseech Thee, save me, for hast Thou not kept me alive for this very purpose? Is it not written, “For the longsuffering of God is salvation “? Lord, by Thy longsuffering look on me.
Now, I know that I am speaking to somebody here that has been shipwrecked. Why were you not drowned as well as others? I remember speaking one day to an officer who rode in the famous charge of Balaclava, and after he had spoken to me about his feelings as he rode along up to the cannon’s mouth I could not help saying to him, “My dear sir, surely God saved you, when the saddles were being emptied, because He had some views of sovereign grace on you.” I have heard of a man living in America to the age of ninety-three unconverted, and then recollecting a sermon he heard fifty years before; and then God blessed it to him, and he lived three more years to rejoice in the sovereign grace of God. Why did not he die before he was ninety-three? Because God meant to save him, and He kept him alive till He did save him. He has kept you alive, dear friend. You escaped the fever. Yellow fever could not lay you low. In that hospital abroad you could not die because the Lord meant to save you. And He has brought you here to-night, I hope, because, as the preserver of men, He means to hear your prayers and give you His grace in your soul. God grant that it may be so! At any rate the man who has been spared from many perils has good reason to say that word, “Thou preserver of men,” and to take hope from it and appeal to the longsuffering of God.
And then, do not you think that Job meant by this, moreover, to speak of the way in which God supplies the daily wants of mankind? We could not live without bread. We could not exist unless we had nutriment for our bodies. And who finds this? It is sent to the whole multitude of the human race by God’s good providence. In that sense God feeds us all virtually by making the earth to produce her harvests. O Thou that feedest all mankind, and so dost preserve them, wilt Thou not give crumbs of mercy to a poor starving soul like me? Is not it good pleading? O Thou preserver of men, have pity on me. If Thou art so good even to the unthankful, I, too, a poor soul that have been unthankful, I do pray Thee to preserve me; and I will be thankful for ever and ever.
And may Job not have meant that it is God who preserves His saints from going down into the pit, and therefore he says, “O Thou Savior of men “ — (put it so for a moment, for the sense will be synonymous)” I beseech Thee have pity on me and preserve me.” We spoke this morning of a man who said that if ever he was saved he should be the greatest wonder in all Heaven, and the angels would come trooping down to the doors to look at him, and would say, “Here is the strangest man that ever was saved yet.”
And we said that that would bring all the more glory to God; and we say it now. If thou art an out-of-the-way sinner, far removed from hope, and the Lord save thee, so much the more will His name be famous throughout eternity. And since He has saved tens of thousands and millions of souls that were once as lost as thee, why, appeal to Him as the preserver or Savior of men, and beseech Him to save thee.
And now I have this mournful reflection that, though I have tried to put the way of salvation before you, this audience will all be scattered in a few minutes north and south and east and west, and with it every word that I have said will be scattered and forgotten too, save where, here and there, God’s Spirit shall be pleased to make a lasting impression. I do pray it may be so, in many of your souls. Why, there are some of you that I am looking upon now that have been hopeful dozens of times. We have heard about your being awakened; we have seen you at our various meetings; or, if we have not heard of it, it has been so. You have been stirred again and again and again, and you have said, “I have sinned”; but you have never got any farther. It is a very awful thing to be at Heaven’s gate and not to enter. I believe every, time a man gets washed up almost on shore from the Dead Sea of sin, if he does not get on shore it becomes, humanly speaking, less and less likely that he ever will. Oh, happy are those hearts that yield to the divine impulses early; but unhappy shall you be if you feel the drawings of God’s love to-night and do not come. Oh, that He might draw mightily, that He might lead you now to cry out with an exceeding bitter cry, “My God, I must be reconciled to Thee; I cannot live under the shadow of Thine anger. I cannot bear to have Thy furbished sword for ever hanging over my devoted head. O God, forgive me ere I go to sleep this night.
Speak the word of mercy. Have pity on my guilty soul.”
Ah, dear soul, if you feel an agony for God, an agony for salvation, you shall have it; you shall have it; you shall have it. The gates of Heaven always open to those that know how to knock hard. If thou canst, knock hard and entreat and cry. “The kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” God give thee that violence to-night; and mayst thou this evening say, “I have sinned, but I am pardoned. I can do nothing unto Thee, O Thou preserver of men, but Thou hast enabled me to bring Thy dear Son before Thee, and I do so now, believing in Him, and I am saved.” Amen.