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IV. We now notice some mistakes into which many fall.
1. Many really trust in justice and not in mercy. They say, “God is just—God will do me no injustice—I mean to do as well as I can, and then I can safely leave myself in the hands of a just God.” True, God will do you no injustice. You never need fear that. But how terrible if God should do you strict justice! How fearful if you get no mercy! If God does not show you infinite mercy you are forever lost, as surely as you are a sinner! This trusting in God’s justice is a fatal rock. The sinner who can do it calmly has never seen God’s law and his own heart. The Psalmist did not say, I trust in the justice of God forever and ever.
2. Many trust professedly in the mercy of God without fulfilling the conditions on which only mercy can be shown.
They may hold on in such trusting till they die—but no longer.
3. Sinners do not consider that God cannot dispense with their fulfilling these conditions. He has no right to do so.
They spring out of the very constitution of His government, from His very nature, and must therefore be strictly fulfilled. Sooner than dispense with their fulfillment, God would send the whole race, yea, the whole universe, to hell If God were to set aside these conditions and forgive a sinner while unhumbled, impenitent, and unbelieving, He would upset His throne, convulse the moral universe, and kindle another hell in His own bosom.
4. Many are defeating their own salvation by self-justification. Pleas that excuse self, and cavils that arraign God, stand alike and fatally in the way of pardon. Since the world began it has not been known that a sinner has found mercy in this state.
5. Many pretend to trust in mercy who yet profess to be punished for their sins as they go along. They hope for salvation through mercy, and yet they are punished for all their sins in this life. Two more absurd and self-contradictory things were never put together. Punished as much as they deserve here, and yet saved through mercy! Why don’t they say it out that they shall be saved after death through justice? Surely if they are punished all they deserve as they go along, justice will ask no more after death.
6. Persons who in the letter plead for mercy, often rely really upon justice. The deep conviction of sin and ill-desert does not sink into their soul till they realize what mercy is, and feel that they can rely on nothing else.
7. Some are covering up their sins, yet dream of going to heaven. Do they think they can hide those sins from the Omniscient Eye? Do they think to cover their sins and yet it prosper,” despite of God’s awful word?
8. We cannot reasonably ask for mercy beyond our acknowledged and felt guilt; and they mistake fatally who suppose that they can. Without a deep conviction of conscious guilt we cannot be honest and in earnest in supplicating mercy. Hear that man pray who thinks sin a trifle and its deserved punishment a small affair. “O Lord, I need a little mercy, only a little; my sins have been few and of small account; grant me, Lord, exemption from the brief and slight punishment which my few errors and defects may have deserved.” Or hear that Universalist pray: “O Lord, Thou knowest that I have been punished for my sins as I have passed along; I have had a fit of sickness and various pains and losses, nearly or quite enough, Thou knowest, to punish all the sins I have committed; now, therefore, I pray Thee to give me salvation through Thy great mercy.” How astonishing that sane men should hold such nonsense! How can a Universalist pray at all? What should they pray for? Not for pardon, for on their principles they have a valid claim to exemption from punishment on the score of justice, as the criminal has who has served out his sentence in the State’s prison. The only rational prayer that can be made is that God will do them justice and let them off, since they have already been punished enough. But why should they pray for this? God may be trusted to do justice without their praying for it. I don’t wonder that Universalists pray but little; what have they to pray for? Their daily bread? Very well. But the mercy of God they need not on their scheme, for they suffer all they deserve. Pleasing delusion; flattering enough to human pride, but strange for rational minds and horribly pernicious! Restoration takes substantially the same ground, only leaving a part of the penalty to De worked out in purgatory, but claiming salvation on the ground of justice and not mercy. Mercy can have no place in any system of Universalism. Every form of this system arrays God in robes of justice—inflexible, fearful justice—yet these men trust, they say, in the mercy of God! But what have they done with the Gospel—what with all the Bible says about free pardon to the guilty? They have thrust it out of the Bible; and what have they given us instead? Only justice, justice—punishment enough for sin in this world, or at least in a few years of purgatory: sin a trifle—government a mere farce—God a liar—hell a bugbear and a humbug! What is all this but dire blasphemy as ever came from hell?
If we ask for but little mercy, we shall get none at all. This may seem strange, but is none the less true. If we get anything, we must ask for great blessings. Suppose a man deserved to be hung, and yet asks only for a little favor; suppose he should say so, can he be forgiven? No. He must confess the whole of his guilt in its full and awful form, and show that he feels it in his very soul. So, sinner, must you come and confess your whole guilt as it is, or have no mercy. Come and get down, low, lower, infinitely low before God, and take mercy there. Hear that Universalist. All he can say at first is, “I thank God for a thousand things.” But he begins to doubt whether this is quite enough. Perhaps he needs a little more punishment than he has suffered in this life; he sees a little more guilt; so he prays that God would let him off from ten years of deserved punishment in hell. And if he sees a little more guilt, he asks for a reprieve from so much more of punishment. If truth flashes upon his soul and he sees his own heart and life in the light of Jehovah’s law, he gets down lower and lower, as low as he can, and pours out his prayer that God would save him from that eternal hell which he deserves. “O,” he cries out, “can God forgive so great a sinner!” Yes, and by so much the more readily, by how much the more you humble yourself, and by how much the greater mercy you ask and feel that you need. Only come down and take such a position that God can meet you. Recollect the prodigal son, and that father running, falling on his neck, weeping, welcoming, forgiving! O! how that father’s heart gushed with tenderness!
It is not the greatness of your sins, but your pride of heart that forbids your salvation. It is not anything in your past life, but it is your present state of mind that makes your salvation impossible. Think of this.
You need not wait to use means with God to persuade Him to save you. He is using means with you to persuade you to be saved. You act as if God could scarcely be moved by any possible entreaties and submissions to exercise mercy. Oh, you do not see how His great heart beats with compassion and presses the streams of mercy forth in all directions, pouring the river of the waters of life at your very feet, creating such a pressure of appeal to your heart that you have to brace yourself against it, lest you should be persuaded to repent. O, do you see how God would fain persuade you and break your heart in penitence, that He may bring you where He can reach you with forgiving mercy—where He can come and bless you without resigning His very throne!
To deny your desert of endless punishment is to render your salvation utterly impossible. God never can forgive you on this ground, because you are trying to be saved on the score of justice. You could not make your damnation more certain than you thus make it, if you were to murder every man you meet. You tie up the hands of mercy and will not let her pluck you from the jaws of death. It is as if your house were on fire and you seize your loaded rifle to shoot down every man that comes with his bucket to help you. You stand your ground amid the raging element until you sink beneath the flames. Who can help you? What is that man doing who is trying to make his family believe Universalism? It is as if he would shoot his rifle at the very heart of Mercy every time she comes in view. He seems determined to drive off Mercy, and for this end plies all the enginery of Universalism and throws himself into the citadel of this refuge of lies! O! what a work of death is this! Mercy shall not reach him or his family; so he seems determined—and Mercy cannot come. See how she bends from heaven—Jehovah smiles in love—and weeps in pity—and bends from the very clouds and holds out the pierced hand of the crucified One. But no! I don’t deserve the punishment; away with the insult of a pardon offered through mere mercy! What can be more fatal, more damning, more ruinous to the soul?
You see very clearly why all are not saved. It is not because God is not willing to save all, but because they defeat the efforts God makes to save them. They betake themselves to every possible refuge and subterfuge; resist conviction of guilt, and repel every call of mercy. What ails those young men? What are they doing? Has God come down in His red wrath and vengeance, that they should rally all their might to oppose Him? O, no, He has only come in mercy—this is all—and they are fighting against His mercy, not His just retributions of vengeance. If this were His awful arm of vengeance you would bow right soon or break beneath its blow. But God’s mercy comes in its soft whispers (would you but realize it)—it comes to win your heart; and what are you doing? You band yourselves together to resist its calls—you invent a thousand excuses—you run together to talk, and talk away all solemn thought—you run to some infidel or Universalist to find relief for an uneasy conscience. Ah, sinner, this can do you no good. You flee away from God—why? What’s the matter? Is God pouring down the floods of His great wrath? No, no; but Mercy has come, and would fain gather you under her outspread wings where storms of wrath can never come. But no, the sinner pleads against it—cavils, runs, fights, repels the angel of mercy—dashes from his lips the waters of life. Sinner, this scene is soon to close. The time is short. Soon God comes— death shakes his dart—that young man is sick—hear his groans. Are you going to die, my young friend? Are you ready? O, I don’t know; I am in great pain. O! O! how can I live so? Alas, how can I die? I can’t attend to it now—too late—too late! Indeed, young man, you are in weakness now. God’s finger has touched you. O, if I could only tell you some of the death-bed scenes which I have witnessed—if I could make you see them, and hear the deep wailings of unutterable agony as the soul quivered, shuddered, and fain would shrink away into annihilation from the awful eye—and was swept down swift to hell! Those are the very men who ran away from mercy! Mercy could not reach them, but death can. Death seizes its victim. See, he drags the frightened, shrieking soul to the gate-way of hell; how that soul recoils—groans—what an unearthly groan—and he is gone! The sentence of execution has gone out and there is no reprieve. Thai sinner would not have mercy when he might; now he cannot when he would. All is over now.
Dying sinner, you may just as well have mercy today as not. All your past sins present no obstacle at all if you only repent and take the offered pardon. Your God proffers you life. “As I live,” saith the Lord, “I have no pleasure in your death; turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?” Why will you reject such offered life? And will you still persist? Be astonished, O ye heavens! Indeed, if there ever was anything that filled the universe with astonishment, it is the sinner’s rejection of mercy. Angels were astonished when they saw the Son of God made flesh, and when they saw Him nailed to a tree—how much more now to see the guilty sinner, doomed to hell, yet spurning offered pardon! What do they see! That sinner putting off and still delaying and delaying still, until—what? Until the last curtain falls, and the great bell tolls, tolls, tolls the awful knell of the sinner’s death eternal! Where is that sinner? Follow him—down he goes, weeping, wailing, along the sides of the pit—he reaches his own final home; in “his own place” now and forevermore! Mercy followed him to the last verge of the precipice, and could no longer. She has done her part.
What if a spirit from glory should come and speak to you five minutes—a relative, say—perhaps your mother—what would she say? Or a spirit from that world of despair—O could such a one give utterance to the awful realities of that prison house, what would be say? Would he tell you that the preacher has been telling you lies? Would he say, Don’t be frightened by these made-up tales of horror? O, no, but that the half has not been told you and never can be. O, how he would press you, if he might, to flee from the wrath to come!4
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