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1. Let me ask professors of religion—Do you think you believe these truths? Let me suppose that here is a father and also a mother in this house, and you have a child whom you know and admit to be under sentence of death. You don’t know but this is the very day and hour set for his execution. How much do you feel? Does the knowledge and belief of such facts disturb your repose? Now your theory is that the case of your child is infinitely worse than. this.
A death eternal in hell you know must be far more awful than any public execution on earth. If your own son were under sentence for execution on earth, how would you feel? Professing to believe him under the far more awful sentence to hell, how do you in fact feel?
But let us spread out this case a little. Place before you that aged father and mother. Their son went years ago to sea. Of a long time they have not seen him nor even heard a word from him. How often have their troubled minds dwelt on his case! They do not know how it fares with him, but they fear the worst. They had reason to know that his principles were none too well fixed when he left home and they are afraid he has fallen into worse and still worse society until it may be that he has become a bold transgressor. As they are talking over these things and searching from time to time all the newspapers they can find, to get, if they can, some clew to their son’s history, all at once the door-bell rings; a messenger comes in and hands a letter; the old father takes it, breaks the seal—reads a word and suddenly falls back in his seat, the letter drops from his hand; oh, he can’t read it! The mother wonders and inquires; she rushes forward and seizes the fallen letter; she reads a word and her heart breaks with agony. What’s the matter? Their son is sentenced to die, and he sends to see if his father and mother can come and see him before be dies. In early morning they are off. The sympathizing neighbors gather round; all are sorrowful, for it is a sad thing and they feel it keenly. The parents hasten away to the prison, and learn the details of the painful case. They see at a glance that there can be no hope of release but in a pardon. The governor lives near, they rush to his house; but sad for them, they find him stem and inexorable. With palpitating hearts and a load on their aching bosoms, they plead and plead, but all seems to be in vain. He says—Your son has been so wicked and has committed such crimes, he must be hung. The good of the nation demands it, and I can not allow my sympathies to overrule my sense of justice and my convictions of the public good. But the agonized parents must hold on. O what a conflict in their minds! How the case burns upon their hearts! At last the mother breaks out: Sir, are you a father? Have you a son? Yes, one son. Where is he? Gone to California. How long since you heard from him? Suppose he too should fall! Suppose you were to feel such griefs as ours, and have to mourn over a fallen son! The governor finds himself to be a father. All the latent sensibilities of the father’s heart are aroused within him. Calling to his private secretary, he says, Make out a pardon for their son! O what a flood of emotions they pour out!
All this is very natural. No man deems this strange at all.
But right over against this, see the case of the sinner, condemned to an eternal hell. If your spiritual ears were opened, you would hear the chariot wheels rolling—the great judge coming in His car of thunder; you would see the sword of Death gleaming in the air and ready to smite down the hardened sinner. But hear that professedly Christian father pray for his ungodly son. He thinks he ought to pray for him once or twice a day, so he begins; but ah, he has almost forgot his subject. He hardly knows or thinks what he is praying about. God says, pray for your dying son! Lift up your cries for him while yet Mercy lingers and pardon can be found. But alas! where are the Christian parents that pray as for a sentenced and soon-to-be-executed son! They say they believe the Bible, but do they? Do they act as if they believed the half of its awful truths about sentenced sinners ready to go down to an eternal hell? Yet mark—as soon as they are spiritually awake, then how they feel! And how they act!
What ails that professor who has no spirit of prayer and no power with God? He is an infidel! What, when God says he is sentenced to die and his angel of death may come in one hour and cut him down in his guilt and sin, and send his spirit quick to hell, and yet the father or the mother have no feeling in the case they are infidels; they do not believe what God has said.
2. Yet make another supposition. These afflicted parents have gone to the governor; they have poured out their griefs before him and have at last wrenched a pardon from his stern hands. They rush from his house toward the prison, so delighted that they scarcely touch the ground; coming near they hear songs of merriment, and they say, How our son must be agonized with company and scenes so unsuited and so uncongenial! They meet the sheriff. Who, they ask, is that who can sing so merrily in a prison? It is your own son. He has no idea of being executed; he swears he will burn down the governor’s house; indeed, he manifests a most determined spirit, as if his heart were fully set on evil. Ah, say they, that is distressing; but we can subdue his wicked and proud heart. We will show him the pardon and tell him how the governor feels. We are sure this will subdue him. He can not withstand such kindness and compassion.
They come to the door; they gain admittance and show him the pardon. They tell him how much it has cost them and how tenderly the governor feels in the case. He seizes it, tears it to pieces, and tramples it under his feet! O, say they, he must be deranged! But suppose it is only depravity of the heart, and they come to see it, and know that such must be the case. Alas, they cry, this is worst of all! What! not willing to be pardoned—not willing to be saved! This is worse than all the rest. Well, we must go to our desolate home. We have done with our son! We got a pardon for him with our tears, but he will not have it. There is nothing more that we can do.
They turn sadly away, not caring even to bid him farewell. They go home doubly saddened—that he should both deserve to die for his original crimes, and also for his yet greater crime of refusing the offered pardon.
The day of execution comes; the sheriff is on hand to do his duty; from the prison he takes his culprit to the place of execution; the multitude throng around and follow sadly along—suddenly a messenger rushes up to say to the criminal, “You have torn to pieces one pardon, but here is yet one more; will you have this?” With proud disdain he spurns even this last offer of pardon! And now where are the sympathies of all the land? Do they say, How cruel to hang a young man, and for only such a crime? Ah, no; no such thing at all. They see the need of law and justice; they know that law so outraged must be allowed to vindicate itself in the culprit’s execution. And now the sheriff proclaims, “Just fifteen minutes to live;” and even these minutes be spends in abusing the governor, and insulting the majesty of law.
The dreadful hour arrives, and its last moment—the drop falls; he trembles a minute under the grasp of Death, and all is still forever! He is gone and Law has been sustained in the fearful execution of its sentence. All the people feel that this is righteous. They can not possibly think otherwise. Even those aged parents have not a word of complaint to utter. They approve the governor’s course; they endorse the sentence. They say, We did think he would accept the pardon! but since he would not, let him be accursed! We love good government, we love the blessings of law and order in society more than we love iniquity and crime. He was indeed our son, but he was also the son of the devil!
But let us attend the execution of some of these sinners from our own congregation. You are sent for to come out for execution. We see the messenger; we hear the sentence read—we see that your fatal hour has come. Shall we turn and curse God? NO, NO! We shall do no such thing. When your drop falls, and you gasp, gasp, and die, your guilty, terror-stricken soul goes wailing down the sides of the pit, shall we go away to complain of God and of His justice? No, Why not? Because you might have had mercy, but you would not. Because God waited on you long, but you only became in heart more fully set to do evil. The universe look on and see the facts in the case; and with one voice that rings through the vast arch of heaven, they cry, “Just and righteous art thou in all thy ways, thou most Holy Lord God!”
Who says this is cruel? What! shall the universe take up arms against Jehovah? No. When the universe gather together around the great white throne, and the dread sentence goes forth, “Depart, accursed;” and away they move in dense and vast masses as if old ocean had begun to flow off-down, down, they sink to the depths of their dark home; but the saints with firm step, yet solemn heart, proclaim God’s law is vindicated; the insulted majesty of both Law and Mercy is now upheld in honor, and all is right.
Heaven is solemn, but joyful; saints are solemn, yet they cannot but rejoice in their own glorious Father. See the crowds and masses is they move up to heaven. They look back over the plains of Sodom and see the smoke of her burning ascend up like the smoke of a great furnace. But they pronounce it just, and have not one word of complaint to utter.
To the yet living sinner, I have it to say today that the hour of your execution has not yet arrived. Once more the bleeding hand offers Mercy’s cup to your lips. Think a moment; your Saviour now offers you mercy. Come, O come now and accept it.
What will you say? I’ll go on still in my sins? Again all we can say is that the bowels of divine love are deeply moved for you—that God has done all to save you that He wisely can do. God’s people have felt a deep and agonizing interest in you and are ready now to cry, How can we give them up? But what more can we do—what more can even God do? With bleeding heart and quivering lip has Mercy followed you. Jesus Himself said, “How often would I have gathered you— O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often I would have saved you, but ye would not!” Shall Jesus behold and weep over you, and say, “O that thou hadst known, even thou in this thy day—but now it is hidden from thine eyes?” What, O dying sinner, will you say? Shall not your response be, “It is enough—I have dashed away salvation’s cup long and wickedly enough; you need not say another word, O that bleeding hand! those weeping eyes! Is it possible that I have withstood a Saviour’s love so long? I am ready to beg for mercy now; and I rejoice to hear that our God has a father’s heart.”
He knows you have sinned greatly and grievously, but O, He says—My compassions have been bleeding and gushing forth toward you these many days. Will you close in at once with terms of mercy and come to Jesus? What do you say?
Suppose an angel comes down, in robes so pure and so white; unrolls his papers, and produces a pardon in your name, sealed with Jesus’ own blood. He opens the sacred book and reads the very passage which reveals the love of God, and asks you if you will believe and embrace it?
What will you do?
And what shall I say to my Lord and Master? When I come to report the matter, must I bear my testimony that you would not hear? When Christ comes so near to you, and would fain draw you close to His warm heart, what will you do? Will you still repeat the fatal choice, to spurn His love and dare His injured justice?10
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