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1. We may see the only sense in which God could have purposed the existence of sin. It is simply negative. He purposed not to prevent it in any case where it does actually occur. He does not purpose to make moral agents sin; not, for example, Adam and Eve in the garden, or Judas in the matter of betraying Christ. All He purposed to do Himself was to leave them with only a certain amount of restraint—as much as He could wisely impose; and then if they would sin, let them bear the responsibility. He left them to act freely and did not positively prevent their sinning. He never uses means to make men sin. He only forbears to use unwise means to prevent their sinning. Thus His agency in the existence of sin is only negative.
2. The existence of sin does not prove that it is the necessary means of the greatest good. Some of you are aware that this point has been often mooted in theological discussions.
I do not purpose now to go into it at length, but will only say that in all cases wherein men sin, they might obey God instead of sinning. Now the question here is—If they were to obey rather than sin, would not a greater good accrue? We have these two reasons for the affirmative: (1), that by natural tendency, obedience promotes good and disobedience evil: and (2), that in all those cases, God earnestly and positively enjoins obedience. It is fair to presume that He would enjoin that which would secure the greatest good.
3. The human conscience always justifies God. This is an undeniable fact—a fact of universal consciousness. The proof of it can never be made stronger, for it stands recorded in each man’s bosom.
Yet a very remarkable book has recently appeared, “The Conflict of Ages”—which is obviously built upon the opposite assumption, viz., that the human conscience does not unqualifiedly condemn man; but except under the light of this peculiar theory, does in fact condemn God. This theory, adopted professedly to vindicate God as against the human conscience, holds that there was a pre-existent state in which we all lived and sinned, and there forfeited our title to a moral nature, unbiased toward sinning. There we had a fair probation. Here, if we suppose this to be the commencement of our moral agency, we do not have a fair probation, and conscience therefore does not, and in truth can not, justify God except on the supposition of a pre-existent state.
The entire book, therefore, is built on the assumption of a conflict between the human conscience and God. A shocking assumption! A brother remarked to me of this that it seemed to him to be the most outrageous and blasphemous indictment against God that could be drawn. Yet the author intended no such thing. He is undoubtedly a good man, but, in this particular, egregiously mistaken.
The fact is, conscience does always condemn the sinner and justify God. It could not affirm obligation without justifying God. The real controversy, therefore, is not between God and the conscience, but between God and the heart. In every instance in which sin exists, conscience condemns the sinner and justifies God. This of itself is a perfect and sufficient answer to the whole doctrine of that book. It knocks out the only and whole foundation on which it is built. If that book be true, men never should have had a conscience until that book was published, read, understood, and believed. No man should ever have been convicted of sin until he came to see that he had existed in a previous state and began his sinning there.
Yet the facts arc right over against this. Everywhere in all ages, with no deference to this book, and no disposition to wait for its tardy developments—everywhere and through all time the human conscience has stood up to condemn each sinner and compel him to sign his own death-warrant; and acquit his Maker of all blame. These are the facts of human nature and life.
4. Conversion consists precisely in this: the heart’s consent to these decisions of the conscience. It is for the heart to come over to the ground occupied by the conscience, and thoroughly acquiesce in it as right and true. Conscience has a long time been speaking; it has always held one doctrine, and has long been resisted by the heart. Now, in conversion, the heart comes over, and gives in its full assent to the decisions of conscience; that God is right, and that sin and himself a sinner are utterly wrong.
And now do any of you want to know how you may become a Christian? This is it. Let your heart justify God and condemn sin, even as your conscience does. Let your voluntary powers yield to the necessary affirmations of your reason and conscience. Then all will be peaceful within because all will be right.
But you say, I am trying to do this! Ah, I know it to be the case with some of you that you are trying to resist to your utmost. You settle down, as it were, with your whole weight while God would fain draw you by His truth and Spirit. Yet you fancy you are really trying to yield your heart to God. A most unaccountable delusion!
5. In the light of this subject we can see the reason for a general judgment. God intends to clear Himself from all imputation of wrong in the matter of sin before the entire moral universe. Strange facts have transpired in His universe, and strange insinuations have been made against His course. These matters must all be set right. For this He will take time enough. He will wait till all things are ready. Obviously He could not bring out His great trial-day till the deeds of earth have all been wrought—till all the events of this wondrous drama have had their full development. Until then He will not be ready to make a full exposé of all His doings. Then He can and will do it most triumphantly and gloriously.
The revelations of that day will doubtless show why God did not interpose to prevent every sin in the universe. Then He will satisfy us as to the reasons He had for suffering Adam and Eve to sin and for leaving Judas to betray his Master. We know now that He is wise and good, although we do not know all the particular reasons for His conduct in the permission of sin. Then He will reveal those particular reasons, as far as it may be best and possible. No doubt He will then show that His reasons were so wise and good that He could not have done better.
6. Sin will then appear infinitely inexcusable and odious. It will then be seen in its true relations toward God and His intelligent creatures, inexpressibly blameworthy and guilty.
Take a case. Suppose a son has gone far away from the paths of obedience and virtue. He has had one of the best of fathers, but be would not hear his counsels. He had a wise and affectionate mother, but he sternly resisted all the appeals of her tenderness and tears. Despite of the most watchful care of parents and friends, he would go astray. As one madly bent on self-ruin, he pushed on, reckless of the sorrow and grief he brought upon those he should have honored and loved. At last the issues of such a course stand revealed. The guilty youth finds himself ruined in constitution, in fortune, and in good name. He has sunk far too low to retain even self-respect. Nothing remains for him but agonizing reflections on past folly and guilt. Hear him bewail his own infatuation. “Alas,” he cries, “I have almost killed my venerable father, and long ago I had quite broken my mother’s heart. All that folly and crime in a son could do, I have done to bring down their gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. No wonder that having done so much to ruin my best friends, I have plucked down a double ruin on my own head. No sinner ever more richly deserved to be doubly damned than myself”
Thus truth flashes upon his soul and thus his heart quails and his conscience thunders condemnation. So it must be with every sinner when all his sins against God shall stand revealed before his eyes, and there shall be nothing left for him but intense and unqualified self-condemnation.
7. God’s omnipotence is no guaranty to any man that either himself or any other sinner will be saved. I know the Universalist affirms it to be. He will ask—Does not the fact of God’s omnipotence, taken in connection with His infinite love, prove that all men will be saved? I answer, No! It does not prove that God will save one soul. With ever so much proof of God’s perfect wisdom, love, and power we could not infer that He would save even one sinner. We might just as reasonably infer that He would send the whole race to hell. How could we know what His wisdom would determine? How could we infer what the exigencies of His government might demand? In fact, the only ground we have for the belief that He will save any sinner is not at all our inference from His wisdom, love, and power; but is wholly and only His own declarations as to this matter. Our knowledge is wholly from revelation. God has said so; and this is all we know about it.
Yet further I reply to the Universalist, that God’s omnipotence saves nobody. Salvation is not wrought by physical omnipotence. It is only by moral power that God saves, and this can save no man unless he consents to be saved.
8. How bitter the reflections which sinners must have on their death-bed, and how fearfully agonizing when they pass behind the veil and see things in their true light. Did you ever think when you have seen a sinner dying in his sins what an awful thing it is for a sinner to die? You mark the lines of anguish on his countenance; you see the look of despair; you observe he can not bear to hear the word of the awful future. There be lies, and death pushes on his stem assault. The poor victim struggles in vain against his dreaded foe. He sinks, and sinks, his pulse runs lower, and yet lower; look in his glassy eye; mark that haggard brow; there, he breathes not; but all suddenly he stares as one affrighted; throws up his hands wildly, screams frightfully; sinks down and is gone to return no more! And where is he now? Not beyond the scope of thought and reflection. He can see back into the world he has left. Still he can think. Alas, his misery is that he can do nothing but think! As said the prisoner in his solitary cell: I could bear torture or I could endure toil; but O, to have nothing to do but to think! To hear the voice of friend no more—to say not a word—to do nothing from day to day and from year to year but to think! that is awful. So of the lost sinner. Who can measure the misery of incessant self-agonizing thought? Now, when at any time your reflections press uncomfortably and you feel that you shall almost go deranged, you can find some drop of comfort for your fevered lips; you can for a few moments, at least, fall asleep, and so forget your sorrows and find a transient rest; but oh! when you shall reach the world where the wicked find no rest—where there can be no sleep—where not one drop of water can reach you to cool your tongue. Alas, how can your heart endure or your hands be strong in that dread hour! God tried in vain to bless and save you. You fought Him back and plucked down on your guilty head a fearful damnation!
9. What infinite consolation will remain to God after He shall have closed up the entire scenes of earth! He has banished the wicked and taken home the righteous to His bosom of love and peace. I have done, says He, all I wisely could to save the race of man. I made sacrifices cheerfully; sent my well-beloved Son gladly; waited as long as it seemed wise to wait, and now it only remains to overrule all this pain and woe for the utmost good, and rejoice in the bliss of the redeemed forevermore.
There are the guilty lost. Their groans swell out and echo up the walls of their pit of woe; it is to so much evidence that God is good and wise and will surely sustain His throne in equity and righteousness forever. It teaches most impressive lessons upon the awful doom of sin, There let it stand and bear its testimony, to warn other beings against a course so guilty and a doom so dreadful!
There, in that world of woe, may be some of our pupils possibly some of our own children. But God is just and His throne stainless of their blood. It shall not mar the eternal joy of His kingdom, that they would pull down such damnation on their heads. They insisted they would take the responsibility, and now they have it.
Sinner, do you not care for this today? Will you come to the inquiry meeting this evening to trifle about your salvation? I can tell you where you will not trifle. When the great bell of time shall toll the death-knell of earth and call her millions of sons and daughters to the final judgment, you will not be in a mood to trifle! You will surely be there! It will be a time for serious thought—an awful time of dread. Are you ready to face its revelations and decisions?
Or do you say, Enough, ENOUGH! I have long enough withstood His grace and spurned His love; I will now give, my heart to God, to be His only, forevermore?15
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