"I was left."—Ezekiel 9:8.
THE vision of Ezekiel, which is recorded in the previous chapter, brought to light the abominations of the house of Judah. The vision which follows in this chapter shows the terrible retribution that the Lord God brought upon the guilty nation, beginning at Jerusalem.
He beheld the slaughtermen come forth with their weapons, he marked them begin the destroying work at the gate of the Temple, he saw them proceed through the main streets, and not omit a single lane; they slew utterly all those who were not marked with the mark of the writer's inkhorn on their brow. He stood alone—that Prophet of the Lord—himself spared in the midst of universal carnage; and as the carcasses fell at his feet, and the bodies stained with gore lay all around him, he said, "I was left." He stood alive amongst the dead, because he was found faithful among the faithless; he survived in the midst of universal destruction, because he had served his God in the midst of universal depravity.
We shall now take the sentence apart altogether from Ezekiel's vision, and appropriate it to ourselves, and I think when we read it over and repeat it, "I was left," it very naturally invites us to take a retrospect of the past, very readily also it suggests a prospect of the future, and, I think, it permits also a terrible contrast in reserve for the impenitent.
I. First of all, then, my brethren, we have here a pathetic reflection, which seems to invite us to take a solemn retrospect—"I was left." You remember, many of you, times of sickness, when cholera was in your streets. You may forget that season of pestilence, but I never can; when the duties of my pastorate called me continually to walk among your terrorstricken households, and to see the dying and the dead. Impressed upon my young heart must ever remain some of those sad scenes I witnessed when I first came to this metropolis, and was rather employed at that time to bury the dead than to bless the living. Some of you have passed through not only one season of cholera but many, and you have been present, too, perhaps, in climates where fever has prostrated its hundreds, and where the plague and other dire diseases have emptied out their quivers, and every arrow has found its mark in the heart of some one of your companions. Yet you have been left. You walked among the graves, but you did not stumble into them. Fierce and fatal maladies lurked in your path, but they were not allowed to devour you. The bullets of death whistled by your ears, and yet you stood alive, for his bullet had no billet for your heart. You can look back, some of you, through fifty, sixty, seventy years. Your bald and gray heads tell the story that you are no more raw recruits in the warfare of life. You have become veterans, if not invalids, in the army. You are ready to retire, to put off your armor, and give place to others. Look back, brethren, I say, you who have come into the sear and yellow leaf; remember the many seasons in which you have seen death hailing multitudes about you; and think—"I was left." And we, too, who are younger, in whose veins our blood still leaps in vigor, can remember times of peril, when thousands fell about us, yet we can say in God's house with great emphasis, "I was left"—preserved, great God, when many others perished; sustained, standing on the rock of life when the waves of death dashed about me, the spray fell heavy upon me, and my body was saturated with disease and pain, yet am I still alive—permitted still to mingle with the busy tribes of men.
Now, then, what does such a retrospect as this suggest? Ought we not each one of us to ask the question, What was I spared for? Why was I left? Many of you were at that time, and some of you even now are dead in trespasses and sins! You were not spared because of your faithfulness, for you brought forth nothing but the grapes of Gomorrah. Certainly God did not stay his sword because of anything good in you. A multitude of clamorous evils in your disposition if not in your conduct might well have demanded your summary execution. You were spared. Let me ask you why? Was it that mercy might yet visit you—that grace might yet renew your soul? Have you found it so? Has sovereign grace overcome you, broken down your prejudices, thawed your icy heart, broken your stony will in pieces? Say, sinner, in looking back upon the times when you have been left, were you spared in order that you might be saved with a great salvation? And if you cannot say "Yes" to that question, let me ask you whether it may not be so yet? Soul, why has God spared you so long, while you are yet his enemy, a stranger to him, and far off from him by wicked works? Or, on the contrary, has he spared you—I tremble at the bare mention of the possibility—has he prolonged your days to develop your propensities, that you may grow riper for damnation—that you may fill up your measure of crying iniquity, and then go down to the pit a sinner seared and dry, like wood that is ready for the fire? Can it be so? Shall these spared moments be spoiled by misdemeanors, or shall they be given up to repentance and to prayer? Will you now, ere the last of your sins shall set in everlasting darkness, will you now look unto him? If so, you will have reason to bless God through all eternity that you were left, because you were left that you might yet seek and might yet find him who is the Saviour of sinners.
Do I speak to many of you who are Christians—and you, too, have been left? When better saints than you were snatched away from earthly ties and creature kindred—when brighter stars than you were enclouded in night, were you permitted still to shine with your poor flickering ray? Why was it, great God? Why am I now left? Let me ask myself that question. In sparing me so long, my Lord, hast thou not something more for me to do? Is there not some purpose as yet unconceived in my soul which thou wilt yet suggest to me, and to carry out which thou wilt yet give me grace and strength, and spare me again a little while? Am I yet immortal, or shielded at least from every arrow of death, because my work is incomplete? Is the tale of my years prolonged because the full tale of the bricks hath not been made up? Then show me what thou wouldst have me do? Since thus I have been left, help me to feel myself a specially-consecrated man, left for a purpose, reserved for some end, else I had been worms' meat years ago, and my body had crumbled back to its mother earth. Christian, I say, always be asking yourself this question; but especially be asking it when you are preserved in times of more than ordinary sickness and mortality. If I am left, why am I left? Why am I not taken home to heaven? Why do I not enter into my rest?
Great God and Master, show me what thou wouldst have me do, and give me grace and strength to do it.
Let us change the retrospect for a moment, and look upon the sparing mercy of God in another light. "I was left." Some of you now present, whose history I well know, can say, "I was left;" and say it with peculiar emphasis. You were born of ungodly parents; the earliest words you can recollect were base and blasphemous, too bad to repeat. You can remember how the first breath your infant lungs received was tainted air—the air of vice, of sin, and iniquity. You grew up, you and your brothers and your sisters, side by side; you filled the home with sin, you went on together in your youthful crimes, and encouraged each other in evil habits. Thus you grew up to manhood, and then you were banded together in ties of obliquity as well as in ties of consanguinity. You added to your number; you took in fresh associates. As your family circle increased, so did the flagrancy of your conduct. You all conspired to break the Sabbath; you devised the same scheme, and perpetrated the same improprieties. Perhaps you can recollect the time when Sunday invitations used always to be sent, a sneer at godliness was couched in the invitations. You recollect how one and another of your old comrades died; you followed them to their graves and your merriment was checked a little while, but it soon broke out again. Then a sister died, steeped to the mouth in infidelity; after that a brother was taken; he had no hope in his death; all was darkness and despair before him. And so, sinner, thou hast outlived all thy comrades If thou art inclined to go to hell, thou must go there along a beaten track: a path which, as thou lookest back upon the way thou hast trodden, is stained with blood; for thou canst remember how all that have been before thee have gone to the long home in dismal gloom, without a glimpse or ray of joy. And now thou art left, sinner; and, blessed be God, it may be you can say, "Yes, and I am not only left, but I am here in the house of prayer; and if I know my own heart, there is nothing I should hate so much as to live my old life over again. Here I am, and I never believed I should ever be here. I look back with mournful-ness indeed upon those who have departed; but though mourning them, I express my gratitude to God that I am not in torments—not in hell—but still here; yea, not only here, but having a hope that I shall one day see the face of Christ, and stand amidst blazing worlds robed in his righteous ness and preserved by his love." You have been left, then; and what ought you to say? Ought you to boast? Oh, no; be doubly humble. Should you take the honor to yourself? No; put the crown upon the head of free, rich, undeserved grace. And what should you do above all other men? Why, you should be doubly pledged to serve Christ. As you have served the devil through thick and thin, until you came to serve him alone, and your company had all departed, so by divine grace may you be pledged to Christ—to follow him, though all the world should despise him, and to hold on to the end, until, if every professor should be an apostate, it might yet be said of you at the last, "He was left; he stood alone in sin while his comrades died; and then he stood alone in Christ when his companions deserted him." Thus of you it should ever be said, "He was left."
This suggests also one more form of the same retrospect. What a special providence has watched over some of us, and guarded our feeble frames! There are some of you, in particular, who have been left to such an age that as you look back upon your youthful days you revoke far more of kinsfolk in the tomb than remain in the world, more under the earth than above it. In your dreams you are the associates of the dead. Still you are left. Preserved amidst a thousand dangers of infancy, then kept in youth, steered safely over the shoals and quicksands of an immature age, and over the rocks and reefs of manhood, you have been brought past the ordinary period of mortal life, and yet you are still here. Seventy years exposed to perpetual death, and yet preserved till you have come almost, perhaps, to your fourscore years. You have been left, my dear brother, and why are you left? Why is it that brothers and sisters are all gone? Why is it that your old school-companions have gradually thinned? You cannot recollect one, now alive, who was your companion in youth. How is it that now, you, who have lived in a certain quarter so long, see new names there on all the shop doors, new faces in the street, and everything new to what you once saw in your young days? Why are you spared? Are you an unconverted man? are you an unconverted woman? To what end are you spared? Is it that you may at the eleventh hour be saved?—God grant it may be so—or art thou spared till thou shalt have sinned thyself into the lowest depths of hell that thou mayest go there the most aggravated sinner because of oft-repeated warnings as often neglected—art thou spared for this, or is it that thou mayest yet be saved? But art thou a Christian? Then is it not hard for thee to answer the question, Why art thou spared? I do not believe there is an old woman on earth, living in the most obscure cot in England, and sitting this very night in the dark garret, with her candle gone out, without means to buy another—I do not believe that old woman would be kept out of heaven five minutes unless God had something for her to do on earth; and I do not think that yon gray-headed man now would be preserved here unless there was somewhat for him to do. Tell it out, tell it out, thou aged man; tell the story of that preserving grace which has kept thee up till now. Tell to thy children and to thy children's children what a God he is whom thou hast trusted. Stand up as a hoary patriarch and tell how he delivered thee in six troubles, and in seven suffered no evil to touch thee, and bear to coming generations thy faithful witness that his word is true, and that his promise cannot fail. Lean on thy staff, and say ere thou diest in the midst of thy family, "Not one good thing hath failed of all that the Lord God hath promised." Let thy ripe days bring forth a mellow testimony to his love; and as thou hast more and more advanced in years, so be thou more and more advanced in knowledge and in confirmed assurance of the immutability of his counsel, the truthfulness of his oath, the preciousness of his blood, and the sureness of the salvation of all those who put their trust in him. Then shall we know that thou art spared for a high and noble purpose indeed. Thou shalt say it with tears of gratitude, and we will listen with smiles of joy—"I was left."
II. I must rather suggest these retrospects than follow them up, though, did time permit, we might well enlarge abundantly, and therefore I must hurry on to invite you to a prospect. "And I was left." You and I shall soon pass out of this world into another. This life is, as it were, but the ferry boat; we are being carried "across, and we shall soon come to the true shore, the real terra firma, for here there is nothing that is substantial. When we shall come into the next world we have to expect by and by a resurrection—a resurrection both of the just and of the unjust; and in that solemn. day we are to expect that all that dwell upon the face of the earth shall be gathered together in one place. And he shall come, who came once to suffer, "he shall come to judge the world in righteousness, and the people in equity." He who came as an infant shall come as the Infinite. He who lay wrapped in swaddling bands shall come girt about the paps with a golden girdle, with a rainbow wreath, and robes of storm. There shall we all stand a vast innumerable company; earth shall be crowned from her valley's deepest base to the mountain's summit, and the sea's waves shall become the solid standing-place of men and women who have slept beneath its torrents. Then shall every eye be fixed on him, and every ear shall be open to him, and every heart shall watch with solemn awe and dread suspense for the transactions of that greatest of all days, that day of days, that sealing up of the ages, that completing of the dispensation. In solemn pomp the Saviour comes, and his angels with him. You hear his voice as he cries, "Gather together the tares in bundles to burn them." Behold the reapers, how they come with wings of fire! see how they grasp their sharp sickles which have long been grinding upon the millstone of God's long-suffering, but have become sharpened at the last. Do you see them as they approach? And there they are mowing down a nation with their sickles. The vile idolaters have just now fallen, and yonder a family of blasphemers has been crushed beneath the feet of the reapers. See there a bundle of drunkards being carried away upon the reapers' shoulders to the great blazing fire. See again in another place the whoremonger, the adulterer, the unchaste, and such Jibe, tied up in vast bundles—bundles the withes of which shall never be rent—and see them cast into the fire, and see how they blaze in the unutterable torments of that pit: and shall I be left? Great God, shall I stand there wrapped in his righteousness alone, the righteousness of him who sits my Judge erect upon the judgment seat? Shall I, when the wicked shall cry, "Rocks hide us, mountains on us fall," shall this eye look up, shall this face dare to turn itself to the face of him that sits upon the throne? Shall I stand calm and unmoved amidst universal terror and dismay? Shall I be numbered with the, godly company, who, clothed with the white linen which is the righteousness of the saints, shall await the shock, shall see the wicked hurled to destruction, and feel and know themselves secure? Shall it be so, or shall I be bound up in a bundle to burn, and swept away forever by the breath of God's nostrils, like the chaff driven before the wind? It must be one or the other; which shall it be? Can I answer that question? Can I tell? I can tell it—tell it now—for I have in this very chapter that which teaches me how to judge myself. They who are preserved have the mark on their foreheads, and they have a character as well as a mark, and their character is, that they sigh and cry for all the abominations of the wicked. Then, if I hate sin, and if I sigh because others love it—if I cry because I myself through infirmity fall into it—if the sin of myself and the sin of others is a constant source of hope, given up by friends, and become a prey to the implacable fury, to the sudden, infinite, and unmitigated severity and justice of an angry God. But they will not be left or exempted from judgment, for the sword shall find them out, the vials of Jehovah shall reach even to their hearts. And that flame, the pile whereof is wood, and much smoke shall suddenly devour them, and that without remedy. Sinner, thou shalt be left. I say, thou shalt be left of all those fond joys that thou huggest now—left of that pride which now steels thy heart: thou wilt be low enough then. Thou wilt be left of that iron constitution which now seems to repel the dart of death. Thou shalt be left of those companions of thine that entice thee on to sin and harden thee in iniquity. Thou shalt be left by those who promise to be thy helpers at the last. They shall need helpers themselves, and the strong man shall fail. Thou shalt be left then of that pleasing fancy of thine, and of that merry wit which can make sport of Bible truths and mock at divine solemnities. Thou shalt be left then of all thy buoyant hopes, and of all thy imaginary delights. Thou shalt be left of that sweet angel, Hope, who never forsaketh any but those who are condemned to hell. Thou shalt be left of God's Spirit, who sometimes now pleads with thee. Thou shalt be left of Jesus Christ, whose gospel hath been so often preached in thine ear. Thou shalt be left of God the Father; he shall shut his eyes of pity against thee, his bowels of compassion shall no more yearn over thee; nor shall his heart regard thy cries. Thou shalt be left; but oh! again I tell thee, thou shalt not be left as one who hath escaped, for when the earth shall open to swallow up the wicked, it shall open at thy feet and swallow thee up. When the fiery thunderbolt shall pursue the spirit that falls into the pit that is bottomless, it shall pursue thee and reach thee and find thee. When God rendeth the wicked in pieces, and there shall be none to deliver, he shall rend thee in pieces, he shall be unto thee as a consuming fire, thy conscience shall be full of gall, thy heart shall be drunken with bitterness, thy teeth shall be broken even with gravel stones, thy hopes riven with his hot thunderbolts, and all thy joys withered and blasted by his breath. Oh! careless sinner, mad sinner, thou who art dashing thyself now downward to destruction, why wilt thou play the fool at this rate? There are cheaper ways of making sport for thyself than this. Dash thy head against the wall; go scrabble there, and, like David, let thy spittle fall upon thy beard, but let not thy sin fall upon thy conscience, and let not thy despite of Christ be like a millstone hanged about thy neck, with which thou shalt be cast into the sea forever. Be wise, I pray thee. Oh, Lord, make the sinner wise; hush his madness for awhile; let him be sober and hear the voice of reason; let him be still and hear the voice of conscience; let him be obedient and hear the voice of Scripture. "Thus saith the Lord, because I will do this, consider thy ways." "Prepare to meet thy God." "Oh, Israel, set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." I do feel I have a message for some one tonight. Though there may be some who think the sermon not appropriate to a congregation where there is so large a proportion of converted men and women, yet what a large portion of ungodly ones there are here too! I know that you come here, many of you, to hear some funny tale, or to catch at some strange, extravagant speech of one whom you repute to be an eccentric man. Ah, well, he is eccentric, and hopes to be so till he dies; but it is simply eccentric in being in earnest, and wanting to win souls. Oh, poor sinners, there is no odd tale I would not tell if I thought it would be blessed to you. There is no grotesque language which I would not use, however it might be thrown back at me again, if I thought it might but be serviceable to you. I set not my account to be thought a fine speaker; they that use fine language may dwell in the king's palaces. I speak to you as one who knows he is accountable to no man, but only to his God; as one who shall have to render his account at the last great day. And I pray you now go not away to talk of this and that which you have remarked in my language. Think of this one thing, "Shall I be left? shall I be saved? Shall I be caught up and dwell with Christ in heaven? or shall I be cast down to hell for ever and ever?" Turn over these things. Think seriously of them. Hear that voice which says, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Give heed to the voice which expostulates—"Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." How else shall your life be spared when the wicked are judged? How else shall you find shelter when the tempest of divine wrath rages? How else shall you stand in the lot of the righteous at the end of the days?
"And Hazael said, Why weepeth my Lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel. And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? "—II Kings 8:12-13.
I SUPPOSE that none of us can doubt that Hazael acted with perfect freedom when he became the murderer of his master. No one, surely, would dare to suggest that any constraint was put upon him. The glittering prospect of wearing the crown of Syria was before his eyes. Nothing stood between him and the kingdom but the life of his master. That master lies sick of a fever. A wet cloth is the usual remedy. He has but to select one that shall be thicker than usual, and take care in spreading it over his face to accommodate it so that the man is suffocated, and lo! he comes to the throne. What wonder is it that Hazael easily puts his master out of the way, and then mounts the vacant seat? None of us will imagine for a moment that he was under constraint, unless it was Satanic. And yet while he acted as a free agent, is it. not quite clear that God foreknew what he would do—that it was absolutely certain he would destroy his master? The prophet speaks not as one who hazarded a conjecture. He foresaw the event with absolute certainty, yet did this man act with perfect freedom when he went and accomplished the prophecy of Elisha. I believe, my brethren, that it is quite as easy to see how God's predestination and man's free agency are perfectly compatible, as it is to see how divine foreknowledge and human free agency are consistent with one another. Doth not the very fact of foreknowledge imply a certainty? Is not that which is foreknown certain? Is not the fact sure to be when God foreknows that it will be? How could it be foreknown conditionally? How could it be foretold conditionally? In this instance there was no stipulation or contingency whatever. It was absolutely foretold that Hazael should be king of Syria. The prophet knew the fact right well, and right clearly he descried the means, or else why should he look into his face and weep? God foreknew the mischief that he would do afterwards, when he came to the throne; and yet that foreknowledge did not in the least degree interfere with his free agency. Nor is this an isolated and exceptional case. The facts most surely believed among us, like the doctrines most clearly revealed to us, point all of them to the same inference. "The predestination of God does not destroy the free agency of man, or lighten the responsibility of the sinner. It is true, in the matter of salvation, when God comes to save, his free grace prevails over our free agency, and leads the will in glorious captivity to the obedience of faith. But in sin man is free—free in the widest sense of the term, never being compelled to do any evil deed, but being left to follow the turbulent passions of his own corrupt heart, and carry out the prevailing tendencies of his own depraved nature. In reference to this matter of predestination and free will, I have often heard men ask, "How do you make them agree? "I think there is another question just as difficult to solve. "How can you make them differ?" The two may be as easily made to concur as to clash. It seems to me a problem which cannot be stated, and a subject that needs no solution. It is but a difficulty which we surmise, and theoretical dilemmas are always hard to deal with and difficult to disentangle. When we look at the matters of fact, the mist that clouds our understanding vanishes. We see God predestinating and man premeditating; God knowing fully, yet man acting freely; God ordaining every circumstance, yet man manoeuvring to compass his own projects; in short we see man accurately, but unconsciously, fulfilling all which was written in the wisdom of God; and that without any impetus of the Almighty upon his mind constraining or inciting him so to do. You will observe in this chapter three or four distinct instances in which both the foreknowledge and foreordination of God are distinctly proven, and yet at the same time the free agency of the creature is conspicuously set forth. That point, however, I have merely adverted to by way of introduction. My subject this evening, as more immediately suggested by the words before us, is the common and too often fatal ignorance of men as to the wickedness of their own hearts.
First, let us expose and expound this ignorance, and then let us draw two practical lessons—one of restraint, what it suggests to us that we should not do—the other of counsel, what it suggests to us that we should do.
Our ignorance of the depravity of our own hearts is a startling fact. Hazael did not believe that he was bad enough to do any of the things here anticipated. "Is thy servant a dog that he should do this great thing?" He might have been conscious enough that his heart was none so pure but it might consent to do many an evil thing; yet crimes so flagrant as those the prophet had foretold of him, he thought himself quite incapable to commit. He could not believe that such wanton cruelty lurked in his breast, or that such barbarity towards women and children could be perpetrated with his sanction. Not yet, perhaps, was the ambition that aspired to the throne of Syria, or the treachery that issued in the murder of his master, fully ripe. Ah, my brethren, the ignorance of Hazael is ours to a greater or less degree. In our natural state we are oblivious of the depravity of our own hearts. How commonly we hear men deny that their hearts are depraved. They tell us that though man be a little injured by the fall he is still a noble creature. His high and glorious instincts make amends, they would persuade us, for his low and beggarly vices. Such foolish conceits we impute to ignorance. Men account crimes revolting when they hear of their comrades being convicted of committing them, but they do not know the innate plague of their own heart. They have not yet learned that their own heart is base and depraved. Hence they challenge the doctrine when we state it—because they are unconscious of the fact. We do not expect a man to accept it as an axiom merely upon our testimony. He had need have some experience himself before he will be able to lay hold upon a truth so humbling, so self-abasing, as that of total depravity. The baseness of our hearts has barely dawned on our apprehensions, though we have a faint gleam of suspicion. Conscience is sensitive enough to let us know that all is not quite right. We feel that we are not pure, that we are not completely perfect. We do admit that we make some mistakes, though we set them down to weakness rather than willfulness; we apologize for our infirmities, and rather excuse than accuse our own hearts. Most of us, however, I trust, have enough light to discern that there was something willfully wrong with our hearts before the Spirit of Christ began to deal with us. We would frankly and freely confess that we were not all that we desired to be our own selves, that there was some radical evil that defied our capacity to search it out. Ah, but how pale was that gleam; it was mere starlight in the soul—not like the sunlight which has since shone in, and shown us the blackness of our nature. We were ignorant, then, of the fact that our nature was totally corrupt; we did not know that it was essentially tainted with iniquity; we could not have endorsed that saying of the apostle, "The carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." We could hardly understand it, when we heard the Christian minister say that the old nature was positively irreclaimable, and must be crucified with its affections and lusts, and that a new nature must be given us. If we ever heard a preacher speak of the fountains of the great deep of our evil heart being broken up, we thought he exaggerated; at least we said, "Surely this might be true of some notorious criminals or it might be even alleged of some ill-bred people who had seen an ill example from their youth up," but we could not imagine that this was actually the case with ourselves. Ay, but, my brethren, we were, to a great degree, cured of this our ignorance when the Spirit of God brought us under conviction. Oh, what a view of ourselves he then gave to some of us! I think we could say with Bunyan, we thought the most loathsome toad in the world to be a better creature than ourselves. We have been led, when under conviction of sin, to sigh and wish we had been made a viper or some reptile that men would tread upon and crush rather than we should have been such base, such vile, hell-deserving sinners as we felt ourselves to be. No discourse, then, about human dignity, could have pleased us; it would have been rubbing salt into our sore to have told us that man was by birth a pure and noble creature. In vain might they have attempted to persuade us then that though we were a little awry, a diligent pursuit of some orthodox plan or prescription might easily restore us and lift us up from the position into which we had been cast by Adam and by our sin. No; we felt that divine grace must new-make us, that there must be a supernatural work wrought in such beings as we were, or else surely we never could be fit to stand before the face of God, and see him with joy and greet him with acceptance. Thus, I say, brethren, that much of our ignorance was taken away; but alas! how much remained! We did not know even then how depraved we were. When Sinai's lightnings were flashing abroad, and all our hearts seemed lit up with its dread fire, that lurid flame was not bright enough to show to us all our baseness. While we stood trembling there, and the. law was thundering over our heads, we bowed to the very dust, but we did not cower then as we ought in penitent humiliation. We were rather awed than melted; for we had only just begun to decipher the black letters of that volume of our total depravity. I think we knew more of our moral obliquity afterwards, when Jesus came to us, and, by his sweet love, bade us be of good cheer, for our sins, which were many, were all forgiven us. Oh, how we saw the baseness of sin as we had never seen it before; for we now saw it in the light of his countenance. The love of his eyes flashed a brighter light into our hearts than all the lightnings of Mount Paran. Horeb's burning steep never gave us such illuminations as did Calvary's hallowed summit. Calvary might be the lesser height, it may not have seemed to stand out with such majesty and awe, but it exerted greater power over us. In its tender flush of mellow light, our eyes could see more clearly than in all the fitful flashes that had scared us hitherto. I think we saw, then, to as full an extent as it was possible for us to bear, how vile, how desperately evil was our nature! When we perceived how great must be the sacrifice which, by its virtue, could atone for sin, how vast that price of our Redeemer's blood which only could provide a ransom from the fall, we had lessons once for all taught us, never to be forgotten. And yet, since then, methinks we have learnt more of the evil of our own hearts than we could at first apprehend. We said, then, "Surely, now I have come into the innermost chamber of iniquity;" but often, since that day, has the Spirit said to us, "Son of man, I will show thee greater abominations than these," and we have been led to see, in the light of God's continual mercies, his perpetual faithfulness, his unfailing love—we have been led to view in that light our continued wanderings, our idolatries of heart, our murmurings, our pride, and our lusts, and we have found ourselves out to be worse than we thought we were. I appeal to you, Christian men and women, if any one had told you that you would have loved your Saviour so little as you have done; if any prophet had told you, in the hour of your conversion, that you would have served him so feebly as you have done, would you have believed it? I appeal to you from the dew of your youth, from that morning blush of your soul's unclouded joy, if an angel from heaven had said to you, "You will doubt your God, you will murmur against his providence, you will kick at the dispensations of his grace"—say, would you not have replied, "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this evil thing!" Your experience, I am sure, has taught you that you were not aware, when you put on your harness, how dastard was the soldier who then did gird himself for the battle. But mark this, we none of us know, after all, much of the baseness of our hearts. Some of you may have had more drill than others; you may have made proof of it by sad backsliding, your lusts may have outwardly betrayed their inward vigor; you may have been discarded by the Holy Ghost for a little season that the Lord might show you that you were weak as other men, that he might prove to you the hollowness of all your self-confidence, and wean you from all trust in your own integrity; but the most sorely exercised among you have not learnt this lesson fully yet. God only knows the vileness of the human heart. There is a depth beneath, a hidden spring, into which we cannot pry. In that lower depth there is a still deeper abyss of positive corruption, which we need not wish to fathom. God grant that we may know enough of this, to humble us, and keep us ever low before God. Yet hold, Lord, lest we should yield to despair, and absolutely lie down to die under the black thought of our alienation from righteousness, our naturalization in sin, and the deplorable tendency of our heart to rebel more and more against thee, the faithful and true God. Show us not our wretchedness. As for the most of us who cannot talk of this experience, let us not think ourselves doctors of divinity; let us sit down at once on the lowest form of the divine school. We have only begun to know ourselves in part; albeit we do know something of the Saviour, blessed be his name! That something is exceedingly precious. Yet how much there is to learn! We have hardly begun to sail on that unfathomable sea. We have not dived yet into its depths. We know not all its heights, and depths, and lengths and breadths. I have been startled often—and if any should say, jeeringly, "The preacher speaketh by experience," they may—I have often been startled when I have found in my heart the possibilities of iniquity of which I thought I never could have been the subject, in reveries by day or in dreams of the night. All at once a blasphemy foul as hell has started up in the very middle of offering a prayer so earnest that my heart never knew more fervor. I had been staggered at myself. When God has called us into the pulpit—we thought at one time we never could be proud if God honored us—this has seemed to quicken our step in the black march of our depraved heart. Or when a little cast down and troubled in spirit, we have wished to leave the world altogether, and have been like Jonah, trying to flee to Tarshish that we might not go to this great Nineveh at his bidding. Little did we reck that there was such cowardice in our soul. We have found out another phase in our own nature. Does any man imagine that his heart is not vile? If he be a professing Christian, I much suspect whether he ought not to renounce his profession; for methinks any enlightened man who sincerely looks to himself, and whose experience leads him somewhat to look within, will surely find, not mere foibles, but foulness that literally staggers him. I question the Christianity of that man who doubts whether there are in his soul the remains of such corruption as drown the ungodly in perdition; or whether though a quickened child of God, he hath another law in his members, warring against the law of his mind. What! hath he no such battle within that the things he would do he often doeth not, while the things that he would not do he often doeth? Hath he no need to be in constant prayer to God to deliver him from the evil in his heart that he may be more than a conquerer over it at last? I dp assert once more, and I think the experience of God's children beareth me out, that when we shall be most advanced, and when we come, at last, to sit down in God's kingdom, we shall find that we have not learnt all that there is to be learnt of the foulness of our nature, and the desperateness of the disease. "The whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores." "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?" "Cleanse thou me from secret faults." "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Perhaps if we knew more of this terrible evil it might peril our reason. Hardly could it be possible for us to bear the full discovery and live. Among the wise concealments of God, is that which hides from open view the depravity of our heart, and the corruption of our nature.
But now I turn to the practical use of our subject, looking at it in two ways—what it forbids and what it suggests. The depravity of our nature forbids, first of all, a venturing or presuming to play and toy with temptation. When a Christian asks, "May I go into such a place?"—should he parley thus with himself? "True; temptation is very strong there, but I shall not yield. It would be dangerous to another man, but it is safe to me. If I were younger, or less prudent and circumspect, I might be in jeopardy; but I have passed the days of youthful passion. I have learned by experience to be more expert. I think, therefore, that I may venture to plunge, and hope to swim where younger men have been carried away by the tide, and less stable ones have been drowned." All such talking as this cometh of evil, and gendereth evil. Proud flesh vaunteth its purity and becomes a prey to every vice. This is the conception of iniquity; only let it be nourished and it will soon bring forth in hideous form every development of sin. He who carries gunpowder about him had better not stand where there are many sparks; he whose limbs being out of joint is in danger of falling every moment, had better not trust himself to walk on the edge of the precipice. Let those who feel themselves to be of a peculiarly sensitive constitution not venture into a place where disease is rife. If I knew my lungs to be weak and liable to congestion, I should shrink from foul air and any vicious atmosphere. If you know that your heart has certain proclivities to sin, why go and tempt the devil to take advantage of you? Satan will surprise you often enough; why then should you borrow fuel from his forge for your own destruction? Why will you go forth to meet him instead of trying with all vigilance to elude his insidious attacks? You have enough temptation. It is an ill thing for God's people when they leave their quarters and visit the localities where sin abounds. Were you an angel, were you sure you could never fall, then you might pitch your tent in the pestilential swamps securely, or frequent the haunts of sensual attraction, whose house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death, without apprehension of harm. But you are so prone to evil, so susceptible of contagion, that I warn you not to trifle. Were you strong as adamant your duty would still be to keep out of the way of temptation, to keep as far as possible from that forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Howbeit, you are not as strong as adamant, you are a creature whose moral power is weak whose bias to evil is extreme. I implore thee, therefore, as thou wouldst honor thy God, and as thou wouldst stand in his brightness, go not I beseech thee where the temptation to sin is glaring, and flatter thyself that thou wilt come out guileless. There are some of us such poor soldiers that I think, if we had our choice, we should rather be where there was least danger. It is right for some brave men, when duty calls, to go into the thickest of the battle: but every Christian is not meant to be in the front rank. There are some men who have to deal with great sins, who are to seek and pluck sinners as brands from the burning. There are those who, like the physician, must go into the midst of the plague that they may save such as are smitten with it. Some men's calling necessarily demands that they should be in the midst of sin. Yet they have need to keep a special guard over themselves, lest while they seek to pluck others from the fire, they be like Nebuchadnezzar's men, who in going near the furnace, were burned themselves. Let them take heed then to themselves who seek to take care for others. In some of those charitable missions in which you, my dear brethren in the church, are daily engaged, take care lest you yourselves, exposed to temptation, should so slip and slide, that Satan may have to rejoice, that instead of smiting the lion the lion hath smitten you, and you are lying at his feet. Oh! keep out of temptation's way, or invade it armed with the entire panoply of God. Not many of us are called to expose ourselves to it. Keep as far off as you can. You had need be watchful.
But, again, knowing how vile we are by nature, knowing indeed that we are bad enough for everything, let us take another caution. Boast not, neither in any wise vaunt yourselves. Presume not to say, "I shall never do this," "I shall never do that." Never venture to say with Hazael, "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? "My experience has furnished me with many instances that the braggart in morality is not the man to be bound for. I would not like to stand surety for his virtue. He professes to hate drunkenness, he was certain he never could be intoxicated, and yet he has indulged the vicious taste when his companions have lured him on, and stained the character that he vainly affected. If not that particular sin, yet there has been some other crime more terrible, perhaps, more fatal to the soul, which has smitten that man down to the dust who has dared to vaunt his integrity. He has said, "My mountain standeth firm; I shall never be moved;" and in that very point where he thought his firmness lay, or in some other which was next-of-kiu to it, he has proved his weakness. Lo! the mountain tottered to its base, and was cast into the midst of the sea. There are no men who are in such danger as the men who think they are not in any danger. There are none so likely to sin as those who say they cannot sin. I remember a story told me by a dear brother, who is present with us now. A tradesman who held office in the church asked him for a loan of money. Though rather inconvenient he was about to comply, and would have done so had not some such inducement as this been offered—" You know you may safely advance this money to me, for I am incorruptible. I am not young; I am past temptation."
Thereupon my friend promptly declined, as he did not like the security. The result justified his shrewdness. At that very time the borrower knew he was on the verge of bankruptcy, and, ere long, was actually a bankrupt, and yet he could pretend to say he was above temptation. Above all, avoid those men who think themselves immaculate, and never fear a fall. If there be a ship on God's sea the captain of which declares that nothing can ever sink her, stand clear, get to the first leakyboat to escape, for she will surely founder. Give a ship the flag of humility, and it is well; but they that spread out the red flag of pride, and boast that they are staunch and trim, and shall never sink, they will either strike upon a rock, or founder in the open sea. Pride is the mother of soul ruin; self-confidence is next door to self-destruction. "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Boast not, though thou be never so strong. Boasting becometh not any mortal. Not the stature nor the strength of Goliath could furnish a pretext for his arrogance. Goliath never seemed so little as when he said, "Come to me, and I will give thy flesh to the fowls of the air." Leave thy boasting until the battle is done. Do not begin to glory till thou hast trodden all thine enemies beneath thy feet. Wait till thou hast crossed the Jordan, and hast reached the shores of the promised land. Do not begin to say yet, "I am out of gunshot; I am beyond the reach of sin." "Oh," saith one, "I am so grown in grace that I cannot sin." Brother, I would not have thee think so. Thou hast so grown in grace that thou mayest not slip. "The man after God's own heart" sinned foully. What if thou be after God's own heart, why shouldst thou say, "I cannot sin?"
Think thou of Lot—just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversations of the wicked, into what follies he was betrayed. Art thou wise as Solomon? Yet Solomon was an arrant fool. Mayest thou not be in thine old age a fool too? Art thou a believer? So was Peter, and yet Peter denied his Master. Mayest not thou deny thy Master too? Let the fact that many of God's saints have fallen where they seemed to be the strongest—Moses the meek failed in his temper, Abraham faltered in his faith, patient Job waxed irritable, and so forth—let their example teach thee to take heed to thyself, lest thou also be tempted, and thou also be cast down.
And let this fact that we do not know our baseness teach us not to be harsh, or too severe, with those of God's people who have inadvertently fallen into sin. Be severe with their sin; never countenance it; let your actions and your conduct prove that you hate the garment spotted with the flesh, that you abhor the transgression, cannot endure it, and must away with it. Yet ever distinguish between the transgressor and the transgression. Think not that his soul is lost because his feet have slipped. Imagine not that because he has gone astray he cannot be restored. If there must be a church censure passed upon him—yet take care that thou so act that he in penitence of spirit may joyously return. Be thou as John was to Peter. Shut not out thy fallen brother, for the day may come when they shall shut thee out, and when thou mayest need all the pity and all the help which the spiritual guide can give unto thee. Distinguish, I say again, between the sin that thou dost condemn and the sinner whom thou must still love—the child of God over whom thou must still weep. Ah, sirs! there may be some of you here who speak with bitter contempt and scorn of those who, notwithstanding their frailties, are better men than yourselves. God may have suffered some sin to attain a great predominance over them for a season. Perhaps, if all were known of you, you might be proved to be worse than they;—and oh! were the Lord to take his bit from your mouth, and the bridle of his divine providence from your jaws, you might run to greater excesses of riot still. Who maketh thee to differ? What hast thou that thou hast not received? Say in thy soul, "By the grace of God I am what I am;" but stand not up with the self-righteousness of the Pharisee—say not, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are."
Leaving now this point of caution, let us consider, by way of counsel, what positive suggestions may arise. If we be thus depraved, and know not the full extent of our depravity, what then should we do? Surely we should daily mourn before God because of this great sinfulness. Full of sin we are. Let us constantly renew our grief. We have not repented of sin to the full extent, unless we repent of the disposition to sin as well as the actual commission of sin. We should deplore before God, not only what we have done, but that depravity which made us do it. See how David repents. He does not merely mourn for sin, but he says, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." He makes it a part of his confessions, that iniquity was in his inward parts, and that his soul was tainted from the birth. So be it with you: weep over the nature as well as over the development of the nature. Weep not over the fountain merely, but over the deep spring from which this fountain gushes; not merely over the coin of sin which has been minted into outer acts, but over that base bullion of iniquity which lies uncoined in your heart. Every day exposes this, as well as the sins you have committed, before God. Lay before God, not merely thy crutches, but thy lameness; not merely thy ceremonial defilement, but the deep leprosy that is in thy skin and in thy bone. Yea, mourn over it, and beg him by his grace to cleanse thee, that thou mayest enter into his kingdom. And when thou hast thus done, take heed that thou walk every day very near to God, seeking daily supplies of his grace. Brethren, I charge you, and specially do I charge myself here, let us look up to God, let us hourly depend upon him, feeling that yesterday's grace is of no use whatever today; that the grace which saved us seven years ago is not the grace that can save us now, but we must have fresh supplies. Oh, there be many, I think, who sit down and say, "I did once know Christ." That is not enough, brethren; we must know Christ each day, we must have fresh grace each hour. It is not once to be partaker of the divine nature, but to be daily a partaker of it. Doth the tree bear the fruit by the sap of seven years ago? Is it not the sap of this year which will produce the seed of this year's fruit? And must it not be so with you? Must you not have daily influxes of the divine influences of the Holy Ghost? Must you not receive from Christ each hour that life without which you must droop and die? Oh, brothers and sisters, let no day pass by without commending yourselves to God; let no hour be spent without resting under his wing. Oh, may our daily habit be to cry unto him, "Hold thou me up and I shall be safe." Oh, my dear hearers, there are some of you who think you are not vile. You have never had your eyes open to learn your depravity. Let me tell you this, that you are so depraved that except you be born again you cannot see the kingdom of God. You may reform, you may go and seek to make yourselves better. It will not do. Know the old proverb and consider i: "The dog is turned to his vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." Ay, the nature is so base—the nature itself is so depraved and so vile—that there must be a radical change of the whole self. How then canst thou change thy nature? Canst thou renew thine own heart? God forbid that thou shouldst be so vainly infatuated as to imagine it possible! No arm but the eternal arm can make thee what thou shouldst be. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Canst thou make thyself a new creature in Christ? Thou canst not create a fly or a grain of dust, much less create thyself a new heart. But there is one who can. The Holy Spirit is able, Jesus Christ is willing. Dost thou say, "Oh, that he would renew my heart tonight?" Methinks he has begun the work; that desire of thine, if sincere, would prove it. Remember what he bids thee to do is to trust. If thou hast longing desires for him, cast thyself down at his feet and say, "Jesu, salvation is brought nigh to me; I trust in thee to make known in me this strange, this Godlike grace. Work in me the new heart, the divine life, the new nature; save me, save me, Jesus; put my feet in the narrow way, and then guide me all the days of my pilgrimage and bring me to thyself, that where thou art, in heaven, there I may be with thee." Sinner, he will do it, he will hear thy cry and answer thy petition, and thou, in the heights of heaven, shall sing of the mercy which received thee when thou wast not worthy to be received, of the love which loved thee when thou wast wholly unlovely, and of all the grace which changed thy nature and made thee meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. God grant that we may not, any of us, be as Hazael, the perpetrators of crimes of which we never suspected ourselves capable; but rather, feeling that we are men and women of the same kith and kin as the vilest sinners that ever trod this earth, may it be our grateful surprise and our lot to be justified freely by God's grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. So shall we be numbered with the saints now and throughout eternity. Amen.