Sermon 446. The Old, Old Story

(No. 446)

Delivered on Sunday Evening, March 30th, 1862, by


At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

"In due time Christ died for the ungodly."-Romans 5:6.

There is a doctor of divinity here to-night who listened to me some years ago. He has been back to his own dwelling-placein America, and he has come here again. I could not help fancying, as I saw his face just now, that he would think I was dotingon the old subject, and harping on the old strain; that I had not advanced a single inch upon any new domain of thought, butwas preaching the same old gospel in the same old terms as ever. If he should think so he will bequite right. I suppose I am something like Mr. Cecil when he was a boy. His father once told him to wait in a gatewaytill he came back, and the father, being very busy, went about the city; and amidst his numerous cares and engagements, heforgot the boy. Night came on, and at last when the father reached home, there was great enquiry as to where Richard was.The father said, "Dear me, I left him early in the morning standing under such-and-such a gateway, and I told him to staythere until Icame for him; I should not wonder but what he is there now." So they went, and there they found him. Such an example ofchildish simple faithfulness it is no disgrace to emulate. I received some years ago orders from my Master to stand at thefoot of the cross until he came. He has not come yet, but I mean to stand there till he does. If I should disobey his ordersand leave those simple truths which have been the means of the conversion of souls, I know not how I could expect his blessing.Here, then, I stand at the foot of the cross and tell out the old, old story, stale though it sound to itching ears, andworn threadbare as critics may deem it. It is of Christ I love to speak-of Christ who loved, and lived, and died, the substitutefor sinners, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.

It is somewhat singular, but just as they say fish go bad at the head first, so modern divines generally go bad first uponthe head and main doctrine of the substitutionary work of Christ. Nearly all our modern errors, I might say all of them, beginwith mistakes about Christ. Men do not like to be always preaching the same thing., There are Athenians in the pulpit as wellas in the pew who spend their time in nothing but hearing some new thing. They are not content totell over and over again the simple message, "He that believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ hath everlasting life." So theyborrow novelties from literature, and garnish the Word of God with the words which man's wisdom teacheth. The doctrine ofatonement they mystify. Reconciliation by the precious blood of Jesus ceases to be the corner-stone of their ministry. Toshape the gospel to the diseased wishes and tastes of men enters far more deeply into their purpose, than to re-mould themind andrenew the heart of men that they receive the gospel as it is. There is no telling where they will go who once go backfrom following the Lord with a true and undivided heart, from deep to deep descending, the blackness of darkness will receivethem unless grace prevent. Only this you may take for a certainty.

"They cannot be right in the rest,

Unless they speak rightly of Him."

If they are not sound about the purpose of the cross, they are rotten everywhere. "Other foundation can no man lay than thatis laid, which is Jesus Christ." On this rock there is security. We may be mistaken on any other points with more impunitythan this. They who are builded on the rock, though they build wood, and hay, and stubble, thereupon to their sore confusion,for what they build shall be burned, themselves shall be saved yet so as by fire. Now that granddoctrine which we take to be the keystone of the evangelical system, they very corner-stone of the gospel, that granddoctrine of the atonement of Christ we would tell to you again, and then, without attempting to prove it, for that we havedone hundreds of times, we shall try to draw some lessons of instruction from that truth which is surely believed among us.Man having sinned, God's righteousness demanded that the penalty should be fulfilled. He had said, "The soul that sinnethshall die;"and unless God can be false, the sinner must die. Moreover, God's holiness demanded it, for the penalty was based on justice.It was just that the sinner should die. God had not appended a more heavy penalty than he should have done. Punishment isthe just result of offending. God, then, must either cease to be holy, or the sinner must be punished. Truth and holinessimperiously demanded that God should lift his hand and smite the man who had broken his law and offended his majesty. ChristJesus, the second Adam, the federal head of the chosen ones, interposed. He offered himself to bear the penalty whichthey ought to bear; to fulfil and honour the law which they had broken and dishonoured. He offered to be their day's-man,a surety, a substitute, standing in their room, place, and stead. Christ became the vicar of his people; vicariously sufferingin their stead; vicariously doing in their stead that which they were not strong enough to do by reason of the weakness ofthe fleshthrough the fall. This which Christ proposed to do was accepted of God. In due time Christ actually died, and fulfilledwhat he promised to do. He took every sin of all his people, and suffered every stroke of the rod on account of those sins.He had compounded into one awful draught the punishment of the sins of all the elect. He took the cup; he put it to his lips;he sweat as it were great drops of blood while he tasted the first sip thereof, but he never desisted, but drank on, on, on,tillhe had exhausted the very dregs, and turning the vessel upside down he said, "It is finished!" and at one tremendous draughtof love the Lord God of salvation had drained destruction dry. Not a dreg, not the slightest reside was left; he had sufferedall that ought to have been suffered; had finished transgression, and made an end of sin. Moreover, he obeyed his Father'slaw to the utmost extent of it; he fulfilled that will of which he had said of old-"Lo, I come to do thy will, O God: thylawis my delight;" and having offered both an atonement for sin and a complete fulfilment of the law, he ascended up on high,took his seat on the right hand of the Majesty in heaven, from henceforth expecting till he enemies be made his footstool,and interceding for those whom be bought with blood that they may be with him where he is. The doctrine of the atonement isvery simple. It just consists in the substitution of Christ in the place of the sinner; Christ being treated as of he werethesinner, and then the transgressors being treated as if he were the righteous one. It is a change of persons; Christ becomessinner; he stands in the sinner's place and stead; he was numbered with the transgressors; the sinner becomes righteous; hestands in Christ's place and stead, and is numbered with the righteous ones. Christ has no sin of his own, but he takes humanguilt, and is punished for human folly. We have no righteousness of our own, but we take the divine righteousness; we arerewarded for it, and stand accepted before God as though that righteousness had been wrought out by ourselves. "In duetime Christ died for the ungodly," that he might take away their sins.

It is not my present object to prove this doctrine. As I said before, there is no need to be always arguing what we know tobe true. Rather let us say a few earnest words by way of commending this doctrine of the atonement; and afterwards I shall propound it by way of application to those who as yet have not received Christ.


There are some things to be said for the gospel which proclaims the atonement as its fundamental principle. And the firstthing to be said of it is, that in comparison with all modern schemes how simple it is! Brethren, this is why our great gentlemen do not like it, it is to plain. If you will go and purchase certain books whichteach you how sermons ought to be made, you will find that the English of it is this,-pick all the hard words you can outof all the booksyou read in the week, and then pour them out on your people on Sunday; and there is a certain set of people who alwaysapplaud the man they cannot understand. They are like the old woman who was asked when she came home from Church, "Did youunderstand the sermon?" "No;" she answered, "I would not have the presumption;" she thought it would be presumption to attemptto understand the minister. But the Word of God is understood with the heart, and makes no strange demands on the intellect.

Now, our first commendation on the doctrine of the atonement is, that it commends itself to the understanding. The way-faring man, though his intellect be but one grade beyond an idiot, may get a hold on the truth of substitution withoutany difficulty. Oh, these modern theologians, they will do anything to spirit away the cross! They hang over it the gaudytrappings of their elocution, or they introduce it with the dark mysterious incantations of their logic, andthen the poor troubled heart looks up to see the cross and sees nothing there but human wisdom. Now I say it again, thereis not one of you here but can understand this truth, that Christ died in the stead of his people. If you perish, it willnot be because the gospel was beyond your comprehension. If you go down to hell, it will not because you were not able tounderstand how God can be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly. It is astonishing in this age how little is known ofthe simpletruisms of the Bible; it seems to be always admonishing us how simple we ought to be in setting them forth. I have heardthat when Mr. Kilpin was once preaching a very good and earnest sermon, he used the word "Deity," and a sailor sitting downbelow leaned forward and said, "Beg your pardon, sir, but who's he, pray? Do you mean God Almighty?" "Yes," said Mr. Kilpin,"Ido mean God, and I ought not to have used a word which you could not understand." "I thank you sir," said the sailor, andlooked as if he would devour the rest of the sermon in the interest which he felt in it even to the close. Now that oneunvarnished face is but an index of that which prevails in every land. There must be simple preaching. A doctrine of atonementthat is not simple, a doctrine which comes from Germany, which needs a man to be a great scholar before he can comprehendit himself, and to be a still greater adept before he can tell it to other-such a doctrine is manifestly not of God, becauseit isnot suited to God's creatures. It is fascinating to one in a thousand of them, but it is not suited to those poor of thisworld who are rich in faith; not suited to those babes to whom God has revealed the things of the kingdom while he has hiddenthem from the wise and prudent. Oh, you may always judge of a doctrine in this way. If it is not a simple doctrine, it doesnot come from God; if it puzzles you, if it is one which you cannot see through at once because of the mysterious languageinwhich it is couched, you may begin to suspect that it is man's doctrine, and not the Word of God.

Nor is this doctrine of the atonement to be commended merely for its simplicity, but because while suiting the understandit also suits the conscience. How it satisfies the conscience no tongue can tell! When a man is awakened and his conscience stings him, when the Spiritof God has shown him his sin and his guilt, there is nothing but the blood of Christ that can ever give him peace. Peter mighthave stood up at the prow of the boat and have said to the winds andto the waves, "Peace, be still," but they would have gone on to roaring with unabated fury. The Pope of Rome, who pretendsto be Peter's successor, may stand up with his ceremonies and say to the troubled conscience, "Peace, be still," but it willnot cease it's terrible agitations. The unclean spirit that sets conscience in so much turmoil cries out, "Jesus I know, andhis cross I know, but who are ye?" Yea, and it will not be case out. There is no chance whatever of our finding a pillow forahead which the Holy Ghost, has made to ache save in the atonement and the finished work of Christ. When Mr. Robert Hallfirst went to Cambridge to preach, the Cambridge folks were nearly Unitarians. So he preached upon the doctrine of the finishedwork of Christ, and some of them came to him in the vestry and said, "Mr Hall, this will never do." "Why not?" said he, "Why,your sermon was only fit for old women." "And why only fit for old women?" said Mr. Hall. "Because," said they, "they aretottering on the borders of the grave, and they want comfort, and, therefore, it will suit them, but it will not do forus." "Very well," said Mr. Hall, "you have unconsciously paid me all the compliment that I can ask for; if this is good forold women on the borders of the grave, it must be good for you if you are in your right senses, for the borders of the graveis where we all stand." Here, indeed, is a choice feature of the atonement, it is comforting to us in the thought of death.Whenconscience is awakened to a sense of guilt, death is sure to cast his pale shadow on all our prospects, and encircle allour steps with dark omens of the grave. Conscience is accompanied generally in its alarms with the thoughts of the near-approachingjudgment, but the peace which the blood gives is conscience-proof, sickness-proof, death-proof, devil-proof, judgment-proof,and it will be eternity-proof. We may well be alarmed at all the uprisings of occupation and all the remembrance of pastdefilement, but only let our eyes rest on they dear cross, O Jesus, and our conscience has peace with God, and we restand are still. Now we ask whether any of these modern systems of divinity can quiet a troubled conscience? We would like togive them some cases that we meet with sometimes-some despairing ones-and say, "Now, here, cast this devil out if you cantry your hand at it," and I think they would find, that this kind goeth not out save by the tears, and groans, and death ofJesusChrist the atoning sacrifice. A gospel without an atonement may do very well for young ladies and gentlemen who do notknow that they ever did anything wrong. It will just suit your lackadaisical people who have not got a heart for anybody tosee; who have always been quite moral, upright, and respectable; who feel insulted if you told them they deserved to be sentto hell; who would not for a moment allow that they could be depraved or fallen creatures. The gospel, I say, of these modernswillsuit these gentlefolks very well I dare say, but let a man be really guilty and know it; let him be really awake to hislost state, and I aver that none but Jesus-none but Jesus, nothing but the precious blood can give him peace and rest. Forthese two things, then, commend us to the doctrine of the atonement, because it suits the understanding of the mostly lowly,and will quiet the conscience of the most troubled.

It has, moreover, this peculiar excellency, that it softens the heart. There is a mysterious softening and melting power in the story of the sacrifice of Christ. I know a dear Christian womanwho loved her little ones and sought their salvation. When she prayed for them, she thought it right to use the best meansshe could to arrest their attention and awaken their minds. I hope you all do likewise. The means, however, which she thoughtbest calculated for herobject was the terrors of the Lord. She used to read to her children chapter after chapter of Alleine's Alarm to the Unconverted. Oh, that book! how many dreams it gave her boy at night about the devouring flames and the everlasting burnings. But theboy's heart grew hardened, as if it were annealed rather than melted by the furnace of fear. The hammer welded the heart tosin, but did not break it. But even then, when the lad's heart was hard, when he heard of Jesus's love to his people,though he feared he was not one of them, still it used to make him weep to think Jesus should love anybody after sucha sort. Even now that he has come to manhood, law and terrors make him dead and stolid, but thy blood, Jesus, thine agonies,in Gethsemane and on the tree, he cannot bear; they melt him; his soul flows through his eyes in tears; he weeps himself awayfrom grateful love to thee for what thou hast done. Alas for those that deny the atonement! They take the very sting out ofChrist's sufferings; and then, in taking out the sting, they take out the point with which sufferings of Christ pierce,and probe, and penetrate the heart. It is because Christ suffered for my sin, because he was condemned that I might to acquittedand not be damned as the result of my guilt: it is this that makes his sufferings such a cordial to my heart.

"See on the bloody tree,

The Illustrious sufferer hangs,

The torments due to thee,

He bore the dreadful pangs;

And cancelled there, the might sum,

Sins present, past, and sins to come."

At this present hour there are congregation met in the theatres of London, and there are persons addressing them. I do notknow what their subjects are, but I know what they ought to be. If they want to get at the intellects of those who live inthe back-slums, if they want to get at the consciences of those who have been thieves and drunkards, if they want to meltthe hearts of those who have grown stubborn and callous through years of lust and iniquity, I know there isnothing will do it but the death on Calvary, the five wounds, the bleeding side, the vinegar, the nails, and the spear.There is a melting power here which is not to be found in all the world besides.

I will detain you yet once more on this point. We commend the doctrine of the atonement because, besides suiting the understand,quieting the conscience, and melting the heart, we know there is a power in it to affect the outward life. No man can believe that Christ suffered for his sins and yet live in sin. No man can believe that his iniquities were themurderers of Christ, and yet go and hug those murderers to his bosom. The sure and certain effect of a truefaith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ is the purging out of the old leaven, the dedication of the soul to him who boughtit with his blood, and the vowing to have revenge against those sins which nailed Jesus to the tree. The proof, after all,is the trial. Go into any parish in England where there lives a philosophical divine who has cut the atonement out of hispreaching, and if you do not find more harlots, and thieves, and drunkards there than is usual, write me down mistaken; butgo, onthe other hand, into a parish where the atonement is preached, and that with rigid integrity and with loving earnestness,and if you do not find the ale-houses getting empty, and the shops shut on the Sunday, and the people walking in honesty anduprightness, then I have looked about the world in vain. I knew a village once that was perhaps one of the worst villagesin England for many things; where many an illicit still was yielding it noxious liquor to a manufacturer without payment oftheduty to the Government, and where, in connection with that, all manner of riot and iniquity were rife. There went a ladinto that village, and but a lad, and one who had no scholarship, but was rough, and sometimes vulgar. He began to preachthere, and it pleased God to turn that village upside down, and in a short time the little thatched chapel was crammed, andthe biggest vagabonds of the village were weeping floods of tears, and those who had been the curse of the parish became itsblessings; and where there had been robberies and villainies of every kind all round the neighbourhood, there were none,because the men who did the mischief were themselves in the house of God, rejoicing to hear of Jesus crucified. Mark me, Iam not telling you an exaggerated story now, nor a thing that I do not know. Yet this one thing I remember to the praise ofGod's grace, it pleased the Lord to work signs and wonders in our midst. He showed the power of Jesus' name, and made us witnessesof the gospel which can win souls, draw reluctant hearts, and mould the life and conduct of men afresh. Why, there aresome brethren here who go to the refuges and homes to talk to those poor fallen girls who have been reclaimed. I wonder whatthey would do if they had not the gospel tale to carry with them to the abodes of wretchedness and shame. If they should takea leaf out of some divinity essays, and should go and talk to them in high-flowing words, and philosophies, what good wouldit beto them? Well, what is not good to them is not good to us. We want something we can grasp, something we can rely upon,something we can feel; something that will mould our character and conversation, and make us to be like Christ.

II. Secondly, one or two points BY WAY OF EXHORTATION.

Christian man, you believe that your sins are forgiven, and that Christ has made a full atonement for them. What shall wesay to you? To you first we say, what a joyful Christian you ought to be! How you should live above the common trials and troubles of the world! Since sin is forgiven, what matters what happens toyou now? Luther said, "Smite, Lord, smite, for my sin is forgiven. If thou hast but forgiven me, smite as hard as thou wilt;"as if he felt like achild who had done wrong, and cared not how his father might whip him if he would but forgive him. So I think you cansay, "Send sickness, poverty, losses, crosses, slander, persecution, what thou wilt, thou hast forgiven me, and my soul isglad, and my spirit is rejoiced." And then, Christian, if thou art thus saved, and Christ really did take thy sin, whilstthou art glad, be grateful and be loving. Cling to that cross which took thy sin away; serve thou him who served thee. "I beseechyou therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable untoGod, which is your reasonable service." Let not your zeal bubble over with some little ebullition of song. You may say,

"I love my God with zeal so great, that I could give him all,"

but sing it not in words unless thou dost mean it. Oh, do mean it! Is there nothing in your life that you do because you belongto Christ? Are you never anxious to show your love in some expressive tokens? Love the brethren of him who loved thee. Ifthere be a Mephibosheth anywhere who is lame or halt, help him for Jonathan's sake. If there be a poor tired believer, tryand weep with him, and bear his cross for the sake of him who wept for thee and carried thy sins.

And yet, again, Christian, if this be true that there is an atonement made for sin, tell it, tell it, tell it. "We cannot all preach," say you; no, but tell it, tell it. "I would not prepare a sermon;" tell it; tell out the story; tellout the mystery and wonder of Christ's love. "But I should never get a congregation;" tell it in your house; tell it by thefire-side. "But I have none but little children:" tell it to your children, and let them know the sweetmystery on the cross, and the blessed history of him who lived and died for sinners. Tell it, for you know not into whatears you may speak. Tell it often, for thus you will have the better hope that you may turn sinners to Christ. Lacking talent,lacking the graces of oratory, be glad that you lack these, and glory in your infirmity that the power of Christ may restupon you, but do tell it. Sometimes there are some of our young men get preaching who had better hold their tongues, but thereare many others who have gifts and abilities which they might use for Christ, but who seem tongue-tied. I have often saidthat if you get a young man to join a rifle corps, he has got something to do, and he puts his heart in it; but if you getthe same young man to join a church, well, his name is in the book, and he has been baptized, and so on, and he thinks hehas nothing more to do with it. Why, brethren, I do not like to have member of the church who feel they can throw the responsibilityon a few of us while they themselves sit still. That is not the way to win battles. If at Waterloo some nine out of tenof our soldiers had said, "Well, we need not fight; we will leave the fighting to the few, there they are; let them go anddo it all." Why, if they had said that, they would very soon have all been cut in pieces. They must every one of them taketheir turns, home, and foot, and artillery; men who were light-armed, and men of all kinds; they must march to the fray; yes,andeven the guards, if they are held back as a reserve to the last, yet they must be called for,-"Up guards, and at 'em;"and if there are any of you here that are old men and women and think you are like the guards, and ought to be spared theheavy conflict, yet up and at them, for now the world needs you all, and since Christ has bought you with His blood, I beseechyou be not content till you have fought for him, and have been victorious through His name. Tell it; tell it' tell it; witha voiceof thunder tell it; year, with many voices mingling together as the sound of many waters; tell it till the dwellers inthe remotest wilderness shall hear the sound thereof. Tell it there shall be ne'er a cot upon the mountain where it is notknown, ne'er a ship upon the sea where the story has not been told. Tell it till there is never a dark alley that has notbeen illuminated by its light, nor a loathsome den which has not been cleansed by its power. Tell out the story that Christdied forthe ungodly.

With a few words of application to unbelievers I draw to a close. Unbeliever, If god cannot and will not forgive the sonsof penitent men without Christ taking their punishment, rest assured he will surely bring you to judgment. If, when Christ,God's Son, had imputed sin laid on him, God smote him, how will he smite you who are his enemy, and who have your own sinsupon your head? God seemed at Calvary, as it were, to take an oath-sinner, hear it!-he seemed, as it were,to take an oath and say. "By the blood of my Son I swear that sin must be punished," and if it is not punished in Christfor you, it will be punished in you for yourselves. Is Christ yours, sinner? Did he die for you? Do you trust him? If youdo, he died for you. Do not way, "No, I do not?" Then remember that if you live and die without faith in Christ, for everyidle word and for every ill act that you have done, stroke for stroke, and blow for blow, vengeance must chastise you.

Again, to another class of you, this word. If God has in Christ made an atonement and opened a way of salvation, what mustbe your guilt who try to open another way; who say, "I will be good and virtuous; I will attend to ceremonies; I will savemyself?'" Fool that thou art, thou hast insulted God in his tenderest point, for thou hast, in fact, trampled on the bloodof Christ, and said, "I need it not." Oh, if the sinner who repents not be damned, with what accumulatedterrors shall he be damned, who, in addition to his impenitence, heaps affronts upon the person of Christ by going aboutto establish his own righteousness. Leave it; leave your rags, you will never make a garment of them; leave the pilfered treasureof thine; it is a counterfeit; forsake it. I counsel thee to buy of Christ fine raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, andfine gold that thou mayest be rich.

And consider this, one and all of you, oh my hearers! If Christ hath made atonement for the ungodly, then let, the questiongo round, let it go round the aisles and round the gallery, and let it echo in every heart, and let it be repeated by everylip,-"Why not for me?" And "Why not for me?" Hope, sinner, hope; he died for the ungodly. If it had said he died for the godly,there were no hope for thee. If it had been written that he died to save the good, the excellent, andthe perfect, then thou hast no chance. He died for the ungodly; thou art such an one; what reason has thou to concludethat he did not die for thee? Hark thee, man; this is what Christ said to thee, "Believe, and thou shall be save;" that is,trust, and thou shall be saved. Trust thy soul in the hands of him who carried they load upon the cross; thrust him now. Hedied for you; your faith is to us the evidence, and to you the proof that Christ bought you with his blood. Delay not; youneed noteven stay to go home to offer a prayer. Trust Christ with you soul now. You have nothing else to trust to; hang on him.You are going down; you are going down. The waves are gathering about you, and soon shall they swallow you up, and we shallhear your gurglings as you sink. See, he stretches out his hand. "Sinner," saith he, "I will bear thee up; though hell's fierywaves should dash against thee I will bear thee through them all, only trust me." What sayest thou, sinner? Wilt thou trusthim?Oh, my soul, recollect the moment when first, I trusted in him! There is joy in heaver over one sinner that repenteth,but I hardly think that is greater joy than the joy of the repenting sinner when he first finds Christ. So simple and so easyit seemed to me when I came to know it. I had only to look and live, only to trust and be saved. Year after year had I beenrunning about hither and thither to try and do what was done beforehand, to try and get ready for that which did not wantanyreadiness. On, happy was that day when I ventured to step in by the open door of his mercy, to set at the table of graceready spread, and to eat and drink, asking no question! Oh, soul, do the same! Take courage. Trust Christ, and if he castthee away when thou has trusted him-my soul for thine as we meet at the bar of God, I will be pawn and pledge for thee atthe last, great day if such thou needest; but he cannot and he will not cast out any that come to him by faith. May god nowaccept andbless us all, for Jesus' sake! Amen.