Sermon 656. Preceding Grace
[This sermon was originally titled "Prevenient Grace."]
A SERMON PREACHED BY C. H. SPURGEON, AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
" When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me by His Grace, to reveal His Son in me." Galatians 1:15.
You all know the story of the Apostle Paul. He had been a persecutor and went armed with letters to Damascus to hail men andwomen and drag them to prison. On the road there he saw a light exceedingly bright-above the brightness of the sun-and a voicespoke out of Heaven to him saying,"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" By this miraculous interposition he was converted-three days he spent in darkness.But when Ananias came to tell him of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there fell from his eyes, as it were, scales. He was baptized,became the most mighty ofall Christian teachers, and could truly say that he was not a whit behind the very chief of the Apostles.
Paul's conversion is generally considered so very remarkable for its suddenness and distinctness and truly it is. Yet, atthe same time, it is no exception to the general rule of conversions, but is rather a type, or model, or pattern of the wayin which God shows forth His long-suffering to themthat are led to believe on Him. It appears from my text, however, that there is another part of Paul's history which deservesour attention quite as much as the suddenness of his conversion, namely, the fact that although he was suddenly converted,yet God had had thoughts of mercytowards him from his very birth.
God did not begin to work with him when he was on the road to Damascus. That was not the first occasion on which eyes of lovehad darted upon this chief of sinners. Paul declares that God had separated him and set him apart even from his mother's wombthat he might, by-and-by, be called by Graceand have Jesus Christ revealed in him! I selected this text, not so much for its own sake as to give me an opportunity forsaying a little this evening upon a doctrine not often touched upon, namely, that of PRECEDING GRACE, or the Grace which comesbefore regeneration andconversion.
I think we sometimes overlook it. We do not attach enough importance to the Grace of God in its dealings with men before Heactually brings them to Himself. Paul says that God had designs of love towards him even before He had called him out of thedead world into spiritual life.
I. To begin, then, let us talk for a little while upon THE PURPOSE OF GOD PRECEDING SAVING GRACE AS IT MAY CLEARLY BE SEENDEVELOPING ITSELF IN HUMAN HISTORY. You generally judge what a man's purpose is by his actions. If you saw a man very carefullymaking molds in the sand, then watched him takeseveral pieces of iron and melt them down. And if you further noticed him pouring the melted iron into the molds, you mightnot know precisely what class of machine he was making, but you would very justly conclude that he was making some part ofan engine or other machinery.Perhaps you might guess a beam, or a lever, or a crank, or a wheel-and according to what you saw the molds in the sand tobe you would form your idea of what the man was intending to make.
Now, when I look at the life of a man, even before conversion, I think I can discover something of God's molding and fashioningin him even before regenerating Grace comes into his heart. Let me give you an illustration of my course of thought. WhenGod created man-we are told in the book ofGenesis-He made him "out of the dust of the earth." Mark him beneath his Maker's hand, the framework of a man, the tabernaclefor an immortal soul-a man made of clay, fully made I suppose, and perfect in all respects excepting one and that soon followed-forafterGod had formed him out of the dust, then He breathed into his nostrils the breath of Life and man became a living soul.
Now it strikes me that during the early part of the history of the people whom God means to save, though they have not receivedinto their hearts any spiritual life, nor experienced any of the work of regeneration, yet their life before conversion isreally a working of them in the clay. Let usendeavor to bring this out more distinctly. Can you not perceive God's purpose in the Apostle Paul when you think of thesingular gifts with which he was endowed? Here was a man, a rhetorician so noble that there are in his works passages of eloquencenot to be equaled, much lessexcelled, by Demosthenes and Cicero.
As a logician his arguments are most conclusive as well as profound. Never had man such eagle eyes to pierce into the depthsof a matter! Never had man such eagle wings to mount up into its sublimities! He argues out questions so difficult to understandthat at all times they have been thebattlegrounds of controversies! And yet he seems to perceive them clearly and distinctly and to unfold and expound themwith a precision of language not to be misunderstood. All Apostles of Jesus Christ put together are not equal to Paul in theway of teaching. Truly he might havesaid of them all, "You are but as children compared with me."
Peter dashes, and dashes gloriously against the adversary! But Peter cannot build up, nor instruct like the great Apostleof the Gentiles. He has to say of Paul's writings that they, "contain some things hard to be understood." Peter can confirm,but scarcely can he understand Paul-for whereintellect is concerned, Paul is far, far above him. Paul seems to have been endowed by God with one of the most intelligentbrains that ever filled human cranium and to have been gifted with an intellect which towered far above anything that we findelsewhere.
Had Paul been merely a natural man, I do not doubt but what he would take the place either of Milton among the poets, or ofBacon among the philosophers. He was, in deed and in truth, a mastermind. Now, when I see such a man as this cast by God inthe mold of Nature, I ask myself-"What isGod's purpose? What is He doing here?" As every man has a purpose, so also has God, and I think I see in all this that Godforeknew that such a man was necessary to be raised up as a vessel through whom He might convey to the world the hidden treasuresof the Gospel. Such a man wasneeded so that God might speak His great things by him!
You will say, probably, that God reveals great things by fools. I beg your pardon. God did once permit an ass to speak, butit was a very small thing that he said-for any ass might readily have said it. Whenever there is a wise thing to be said,a wise man is always chosen to say it. Look thewhole Bible through and you will find that the Revelation is always congruous to the person to whom it is given. You donot find Ezekiel blessed with a Revelation like that of Isaiah. Ezekiel is all imagination, therefore he must soar on theeagle's wings. Isaiah is all affectionand boldness and therefore he must speak with evangelical fullness.
God does not give Nahum's Revelation to the herdsman Amos-the herdsman Amos cannot speak like Nahum, nor can Nahum speak likeAmos. Each man is after his own order and a man of this masterly order of mind, like the Apostle Paul, must have been created,it seems to me, for no other end than tobe the appropriate means of revealing to us the fullness and the blessing of the Gospel of peace! Mark, again, the Apostle'seducation. Paul was a Jew, not half Greek and half Jew, but a pure Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews,speaking the Jews' native tongue andnot a stranger to the ancient speech of Israel.
There was nothing in the traditions of the Jews which Paul did not know and understand. He was educated at the feet of Gamaliel.The best master of the age is selected to be the master of the hopeful young scholar and the school in which he is placedmust be a Rabinnical one. Now, just observe inthis the purpose of God. Paul's life-long struggle was to be with Jewish superstition. In Iconium, in Lystra, in Derbe,in Athens, in Corinth, in Rome he must always be confronting the Judaizing spirit. And it was well that he should know allabout it-that he should be wellschooled in it. And it does strike me that God separated him from his mother's womb on purpose that he might go forth toproclaim the Gospel instead of Law and shut the mouths of those who were constantly abiding by the traditions of the fathers,instead of the Gospel of JesusChrist.
All this, remember, was going on while as yet he was unconverted, though he was even then, as we see, being prepared for hiswork. Then observe the spiritual struggles through which Paul passed. I take it that mental struggles are often a more importantpart of education than what a man learns fromhis schoolmaster. What is learned here in my heart is often of more use to me than what can be put into my head by another.Paul seems to have had a mind bent upon carrying out what he believed to be right. To serve God appears to have been the greatambition, the one object of theApostle's life.
Even when he was a persecutor, he says he thought he was doing God service. He was no seeker after wealth-never in his wholelifetime was Paul a Mammonite. He was no mere seeker after learning-never! He was learned, but it was all held and used subjectto what he deemed far morehighly-the indwelling Grace of God. Even before he knew Christ he had a sort of religion and an attachment, and an earnestattachment, too, to the God of his fathers, though it was a zeal not according to knowledge. He had his inward fights andfears and struggles anddifficulties and all these were educating him to come out and talk to his fellow sinners and lead them up out of the darknessof Judaism into the light of Christianity.
And then, what I like in Paul and that which leads me to see the purpose of God in him, is the singular formation of his mind.Even as a sinner, Paul was great. He was "the chief of sinners," just as he afterwards became, "not a whit behind the verychief of the Apostles." There are some of us whoare such little men that the world will never see us. The old proverb about the chips in porridge giving one pleasure eitherway, might apply to a great many people, but never to Paul. If there was anything to be done, Paul would do it-yes, and ifit came to the stoning ofStephen, he says he gave his vote against him-and though he was not one of the actual executioners, yet we are told that"the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul."
He would do all that was to be done and was a thoroughgoing man everywhere. Believing a thing to be right, Paul never consultedwith flesh and blood, but girded up his loins and worked with all the powers of his being-and that was no mean force-as hisenemies felt to their cost. Why, asI see him riding to Damascus, I picture him with his eyes flashing with fanatic hate against the disciples of the Man whomhe thought to be an impostor-and his heart beat high with the determination to crush the followers of the Nazarene!
He is a man all energy and all determination. And when he is converted, he is only lifted into a higherlife-but unchangedas to temperament, nature and force of character. He seems to have been naturally constituted a thoroughgoing, thorough-heartedman in order that when Grace did come tohim, he might be just as earnest, just as dauntless and fearless, in the defense of what he believed to be right. Yes, andsuch a man was needed to lead the vanguard in the great crusade against the god of this world. No other could have stood forwardas Paul did, for no other hadthe same firmness, boldness and decision that he possessed.
"But," I hear someone say, "was not Peter as bold?" Yes, he was. But Peter, you remember, always had the failing of beingjust where he ought not to be when he was needed. Peter was unstable to the very last, I think. Certainly, in Paul's day,Paul had to withstand him. He was a great and good man,but not fitted to be the foremost. Perhaps you say, "But there is John-would not John do?" No. We cannot speak in too highterms of John, but John is too full of affection. John is the plane to smooth the timber, but not the axe to cut it down.John is too gentle, too meek. Heis the Phillip Melancthon. Paul must be the Luther and Calvin rolled into one! Such a man was needed-and I say that fromhis very birth, God was fitting him for this position. And before he was converted, preceding Grace was engaged fashioning,molding, and preparing the manin order that by-and-by there might be put into his nostrils the breath of Life.
Now what is the drift of all this? A practical one. And to show you what it is, we will linger a minute here before we goon to anything else. Some of the good fathers among us are mourning very bitterly just now over their sons. Your childrenhave not turned out as you wish they would. They aregetting skeptical, some of them, and they are also falling into sin. Well, dear Friends, it is yours to mourn. It is enoughto make you weep bitterly! But let me whisper a word into your ears. Do not sorrow as those who are without hope, for Godmay have very great designs to beanswered, even by these very young men who seem to be running so altogether in the wrong direction!
I do not think I could go so far as John Bunyan did, when he said he was sure God would have some eminent saints in the nextgeneration because the young men in his day were such gross sinners! He thought they would make fine saints. And when theLord came and saved them, by His mercy-theywould love Him much-because they had had so much forgiven. I can hardly say as much as that, but I do believe that sometimesin the inscrutable wisdom of God-when some of those who have been skeptical come to see the Truth-they are the very best menthat couldpossibly be found to do battle against the enemy.
Some of those who have fallen into error, after having passed through it and happily come up through its deep ditch, are justthe men to stand and warn others against it. I cannot conceive that Luther would ever have been so mighty a preacher of thefaith if he had not, himself, struggled up anddown Pilate's staircase on his knees when trying to get to
Heaven by his penances and his good works. O let us have hope! We do not know but that God may be intending to call them andbless them! Who can tell, there may be a young man here tonight who will one day be the herald of the Cross in China, in Hindustan,in Africa and in the islands of the sea!
Remember John Williams wishing to keep an appointment with another young man who committed a certain sin. He wanted to knowwhat time it was and so stepped into Moorefield's Chapel. Someone saw him so he did not want to leave, and the Word, preachedby Mr. Timothy East who still survives among us,fell on his ears and the young sinner was made a saint! And you all know how he afterwards perished as a martyr on the shoresof Erromanga. Why may there not be another such a case tonight? There may be some young man here who has been receiving afirst class education-he hasno idea what for! He has been learning a multitude of things-perhaps a great deal which it would be much better if he didnot know-but the Lord is meaning to make something of him.
I do not know where you are, young Man, but O, I wish I could fire you tonight with a high ambition to serve God! What isthe good of my being made at all if I do not serve my Maker? What is the use of my being here if I do not bring any gloryto Him who put me and keeps me here? Why, I had betterhave been a piece of rotten dung strewn upon the field and bringing forth something for the farmer's use than to have beena mere consumer of bread and meat and to have breathed the air and lived upon God's bounty and yet to have done nothing forHim! O young Man! If such an army ofyou as we have tonight could allbe led by Divine Grace to say with the Apostle Paul, "God forbid that I should glory, savein the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ," why, there would be hope for Old England yet!
We would yet fling Popery back to the seven hills from where it came. Oh that God would grant us this blessing! But if Heshould not be pleased to call all of us by His Grace, yet may some here live to prove that they were separated from theirmother's womb to God's work and set apart that theymight have the Son of God revealed in them and might proclaim His Gospel with power! We will now leave this point, but shallcontinue the same subject in another form.
II. You would, perhaps, say that all I have talked about as yet has been Providence rather than Grace. Very likely, but Ithink that Providence and Grace are very near akin. At any rate, if Providence is the wheel, Grace is the hand which turnsand guides it.
But I am now about to speak of GRACE PRECEDING, CALLING IN ANOTHER SENSE. It strikes me that it is impossible to say, concerningthe elect, when the Grace of God begins to deal with them. You can tell when the quickening Grace comes, but not when theGrace, itself, comes. For know, in one sense,Grace was exercised upon the chosen-
"Before the daystar knew its place, Or planets ran their round."
I should say that is what I cannot call by any other name than formative Grace exercised upon the vessels of mercy at theirvery birth. It seems to me to be no small mercy that some of us were born of such parents as we were and that we were bornwhere we were. Some of us began right and weresurrounded by many advantages. We were cradled upon the lap of piety and dandled upon the knee of holiness.
There are some children who are born with a constitution which cannot escape sin, and which at the same time seems as if itinevitably led them to it. Who can deny that there are some whose passions seem naturally to be so violent that, notwithstandingalmost any and every restraint, they runheadlong into sin? And often those failings may be distinctly traced to their parents! It is no small blessing when we canlook back and thank God, that if no blue-blood of nobility flows in our veins, yet from our very childhood we have not heardthe voice of blasphemy, nor strayedinto the haunts of vice-but that in the very formation of our character-Divine Grace has ever been present with us!
This formative Grace, many of you, I have no doubt, can trace in the examples and influences which have followed you fromthe cradle through life. Why, what a blessing to have had such a Sunday school teacher as some of you had! Other childrenwent to schools but they had not such a teacher, orsuch a class as yours. What a privilege to have had such a minister as some of you had, though perhaps he has fallen asleepnow! You know there were others who went to places where there was no earnestness, no life-but that good man who was blessedto you was full of anxietyfor your soul-and at the very first, before you were converted, his preaching helped to form your character!
Why, it strikes me that every word I heard and everything I saw while I was yet a child or a youth, had a part in the formationof my later life. Oh, what a mercy it is to be placed where a holy example and godly conversation tend to form the man ina godly mold! All this may be, you know, withoutDivine Grace. I am not speaking, now, of the work of effectual calling, but of that preceding Grace which is too much forgotten,though it so richly deserves to be remembered.
Think, too, of the prayers which brought tears to our eyes and the teaching that would not let us sin so deeply as others.Think of the light which glowed in us, even in our childhood, and seems to have dispelled something of our natural darkness.Think of that earnest face that used to look sosteadily on us when we did wrong and of that mother's tear which seemed as if it would burn itself into our hearts whenthere had been something amiss that made Mother anxious. All this-though it did not convertus-yet it helped to make us whatwe now are and unto God letus give the Glory!
Furthermore, while there was this formative Grace, there seems to me to have gone with it very much of preventive Grace. Howmany saints fall into sins which they have to regret even after conversion, while others are saved from leaving the path ofmorality to wander in the morass of lust andcrime! Why, some of us were, by God's Grace, placed in positions where we could not well have been guilty of any gross actsof immorality even if we had tried! We were so hedged about by guardian care-so watched and tended on every side-that we wouldhave been dashingour heads against a stone wall if we had run into any great or open sin.
Oh, what a mercy to be prevented from sinning-when God puts chains across the road, digs ditches, makes hedges, builds wallsand says to us, "No, you shall not go that way, I will not let you. You shall never have that to regret. You may desire it,but I will hedge up your way with thorns.You may wish it, but it never shall be yours." Beloved, I have thanked God a thousand times in my life that before my conversionwhen I had evil desires I had no opportunities! And on the other hand, that when I had opportunities I had no desires-forwhen desires andopportunities come together like the flint and steel-they make the spark that kindles the fire. But neither the one northe other, though they may both be dangerous, can bring about any great amount of evil so long as they are kept apart! Letus, then, look back and if thishas been our experience let us bless the preventing Grace of God.
Again, there is another form of Grace I must mention, namely, restraining Grace. Here, you see, I am making a distinction.There are many who didgo into sin. They were not wholly prevented from it, but they could not go as far into it as they wantedto do. There is a young man here tonight-hewill ask how I know-well, I do know-there is a young man here tonight who wants to commit a certain sin, but he cannot.Oh, how he wishes to do it, but he cannot! He is placed in such a position of poverty that he cannot play the fine gentlemanhe would like.
There is another! He wants to be dancing at such-and-such a place, but thank God he is lame! There is another, who, if hehad had his wish would have lost his soul-but since his blindness has come upon him there is some hope for him. Oh how oftenGod has thrown a man on a sick bed to make himwell! He would have been such as he was even unto death if he had been well-but God has made him sick-and that sicknesshas restrained him from sin! It is a mercy for some men that they cannot do what they would and though "to will is present"with them, yet even in sin,"how to perform that which they would, they find not."
Ah, my fine Fellow, if you could have had your own way you would have been at the top of the mountain by now! So you think,but no-you would have been over the precipice long before this if God had you climb at all-and so He has kept you in the valleybecause He has designs of lovetowards you and because you shall not sin as others sin. Divine Grace has its hand upon the bridle of your horse. Or perhapsit is a woman and you may speak bitter words against that wife, that sister, or that mother whom God has put there to holdyou back. But you cannot go on, youshall not go on. Another inch forward and you will be over the precipice and lost, and therefore God has put that hand thereto throw your horse back on its haunches and make you pause and think-and turn from the error of your ways. What a mercy itis that when God's people gointo sin to any extent, He speaks and says, "To this point shall you go, but no further. Here shall your proud sins be stopped!"There is, then, restraining Grace.
We shall get still further into the subject when we come to what Dr. John Owen calls the preparatorywork of Grace. Have youever noticed that parable about the different sorts of ground and the sower of the seeds? A sower went forth to sow and someof the seed fell on stony ground. You canunderstand that, because all men have stones in their hearts. Some fell on the thorns and thistles. You can comprehend that,because men are so given to worldly care. Another part of the seed fell on the beaten path. You can understand that-men areso occupied withworldliness.
But how about the "good ground"? "Good ground"! Is there such a thing as "good ground" by nature? One of the evangelists saysthat it was "honest and good ground." Now, is there such a difference between hearts and hearts? Are not all men depravedby nature? Yes, he who doubts human depravity hadbetter begin to study himself. Question-If all hearts are bad, how are some hearts good? Reply-They are good comparatively.They are good in a certain sense. It is not meant in the parable that the good ground was so good that it never would haveproduced a harvestwithout the sowing of the seed-but that it had been prepared by Providential influences upon it to receive the seed andin that sense it may be said to have been "good ground."
Now let me show you how God's Grace does come to work on the human heart so as to make it good soil before the living seedis cast into it-so that before quickening Grace visits it, the heart may be called a good heart-because it is prepared toreceive that Grace. I think this takesplace thus-first of all, before quickening Grace comes, God often gives an attentive ear and makes a man willing to listento the Word. Not only does he like to listen to it, but he wants to know the meaning of it. There is a little excitement inhis mind to know what theGospel tidings really are. He is not saved as yet, but it is always a hopeful sign when a man is willing to listen to theTruth and is anxious to understand it.
This is one thing which preceding Grace does in making the soul good. In Ezekiel's vision, as you will recall, before theBreath came from the four winds, the bones began to stir and they came together bone to his bone. So, before the Spirit ofGod comes to a man in effectual calling, God's Graceoften comes to make a stir in the man's mind so that he is no longer indifferent to the Truth but is anxious to understandwhat it means.
The next mark of this gracious work is an honest heart. Some persons will not hear you, or if they do, they are always pickingholes and finding fault-they are not honest and good ground. But there are others who say, "I will give the man a fair andan honest hearing. I will read the Bible. Iwill read it honestly. I will really see whether it is the Word of God or not. I will come to it without any prejudices,or, if I have any prejudices I will throw them aside." Now, all this is a blessed work of preparatory Grace making the heartready to receive effectual calling.
Then, when this willingness and honesty are attended with a tender conscience, as they are in some unconverted people, thisis another great blessing. Some of you are not converted, but you would not do wrong. You are not saints, but you would nottell a lie for the world! I thank God that thereare some of you so excellent in morals that if you were proposed to us for Church membership, we could not raise any objectionto you on that ground, at any rate. You are as honest as the day is long. As for the things of God, you are outwardly as attentiveto them and as diligentin them as the most earnest and indefatigable Christians.
Now, this is because your conscience is tender. When you do wrong you cannot sleep at night. And you do not feel at all easyin being without a Savior-I know some of you do not. You have not come to any decision. The Grace of God has not really madeyou feel your thoroughly blindstate-still you are not quite easy. In fact, to go farther, your affections, though not weaned altogether from earth, yetbegin to tremble a little as though they would go heavenward. You want to be a Christian-when the communion table is spread,you dare not comedownstairs-but I see you looking from the gallery and you wish you were with us.
You know you have not believed in Jesus Christ, and the world keeps you back from doing so-but still there is a kind of twitchingin your conscience. You do not know what it is, but there is a something in you that makes you say at times, "O God, let medie the death of the righteous and letmy last end be like his." Yes, and you even go farther than this and ask to live the righteous man's life, too. Now, remember,this will not save you-"You must be born again." But for all this the Church of God should feel deeply grateful-for they haveseen in themselvesthat this is often God's preparatory work-clearing away the rubbish and rubble and digging out the foundations, that JesusChrist might be laid there, the Cornerstone of future hope and of future happiness!
Another work of Grace is the creation of dissatisfaction with their present state. How many men we have known who were consciously"without God and without hope in the world"! The apples of Sodom had turned to ashes and bitterness in their mouth, thoughat one time all was fair and sweet to theirtaste. The mirage of life with them has been dispelled, and instead of the green fields and waving trees and rippling waterswhich their fevered imagination had conjured up in the desert, they can see now nothing but the arid sand and wasteness ofdesolation which appall theirfainting spirits and promise nothing! No, not even a grave to cover their whited bones which shall remain a bleached memorialthat, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
Multitudes have been brought to see the deluge of sin which has covered even the high places of the earth! They find no restfor the sole of their feet, but as yet they know not of an ark, nor of a loving hand prepared to pull them in as did Noahthe dove in olden times! Look at the life of St.Augustine, how wearily he wanders here and there with a death-thirst in his soul that no fount of philosophy, or scholasticargument, or heretical teaching could ever satisfy! He was aware of his unhappy estate and turned his eye round the circleof the universe looking forpeace-not fully conscious of what he wanted-though feeling an aching void the world could never fill. He had not found thecenter, fixed and steadfast, around which all else revolved in ceaseless change.
Now, all this appetite, this hunger and thirst I look upon as not of the devil, nor of the human heart alone-it was of God!He strips us of all our earthly joy and peace, that, shivering in the cold blast, we might flee, when drawn by His Spirit,to the "Man who is as a hiding place from thestorm, a cover from the tempest, and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." Of course, I have not gone fully intothis doctrine of preceding Grace, but I trust I have said just enough to waken the gratitude of all the saints who have experiencedit and to make them sing withgreater emotion than they have ever done before-
"Determined to save, He watched over my path When, Satan's blind slave, I sported with death."
III. And now we come to the last point, which is, PAUL'S ACTUAL CALLING BY DIVINE GRACE. All preparatory work of which wehave spoken was not the source or origin of the vital godliness which afterwards distinguished that renowned servant of God-thatcame to him suddenly.
Beloved, there may be some here tonight who cannot discern anything in themselves of God's work of Grace at all. I do notwonder at this. I do not suppose that the Apostle could discern it in himself, or even thought of looking for it! He was ascareless of Christ as is the butterfly of the honeyin the flowers. He lived with no thought of honoring Jesus and no desire to magnify Him-but with the very reverse passionglowing like a hot coal within his soul. And yet in a moment he was turned from an enemy into a friend! Oh, what a mercy itwould be if some here tonightwere turned from enemies into friends in a moment-and we are not without hope but that this will be the case!
You have hated Christ, my Friend. You have hated Him boldly and decidedly. You have not been a sneaking sort of adversary,but have opposed Him frankly and openly. Now, why did you do it? I am sorry for your sin, but I like your honesty. What isthere in the Person of Christ for you to hate? Menhated Him while He was on earth and yet He died for them! Can you hate Him for that? He came into this world to gain nohonor for Himself-He had honor enough in Heaven-but He gave it up for the sake of men. When He died He had not amassed a fortune,nor gathered aboutHim a troop of soldiers-nor had He conquered provinces-and He died naked on the Cross!
Nothing brought Him here but disinterested affection. And when He came He spent His life in deeds of holiness and good. Forwhich of these things can you hate Him? The amazing loving-kindness of Christ Jesus towards sinners should, in itself, disarmyour animosity and turn your hatred of Him tolove. Alas! I know that this thought of itself will not do it-but the Spirit of God can. If the Spirit of God once comesin contact with your souls and shows you that Christ died for you, your enmity towards Christ will be over!
Dr. Gifford once went to see a woman in prison who had been a very gross offender. She was such a hardened reprobate thatthe doctor began by discoursing with her about the judgments of God and the punishments of Hell. But she only laughed himto scorn and called him opprobrious names. The doctorburst into tears, and said, "And yet, poor Soul, there is mercy for you, even for such as you are, though you have laughedin the face of Him who would do you good. Christ is able to forgive you, hard though you are. And I hope that He will yettake you to dwell with Him at Hisright hand."
In a moment the woman stopped her laughing, sat down quietly, burst into tears and said, "Don't talk to me in that way! Ihave always been told that I should be damned and I made up my mind to be! I knew there was no chance and so I have gone onfrom one sin to another-but oh, if there is ahope of mercy for me, that is another thing! If there is a possibility of my being forgiven, that is another thing!" Thedoctor at once opened his Bible and began to read to her these words, "The blood of Jesus Christ, God's dear Son, cleansesus from all sin." The greatestbrokenness of heart followed.
In subsequent visits the doctor was gratified to find that she was brought to Christ. And though she had to undergo a sentencefor many years at the time, yet years later the godly man saw her walking honestly and uprightly as a Believer in Jesus Christ.Sinner, I wish that thought would bringyouto Christ! O that you would know that He has chosen you, that He has separated you for Himself, and to be His-even fromyour mother's womb! Ah, you have played the harlot, but He will bring you back! You have sinned very greatly, but you shallone day be clothed in thewhite robe and wear the everlasting crown!
Oh, blush and be ashamed that you should ever have sinned as you have done! You have been a thief and a drunkard. You havebrought your mother's gray hairs with sorrow to the grave, but her prayers are going up even now to Heaven and you shall bebrought in yet. O stubborn Sinner, my Master meansto have you! Run as you will, you wandering sheep, the Shepherd is after you-yield, yield, yield now! O Prodigal, your Father'sheart is open! Arise! Go to your Father! You are ashamed to go, are you? Oh, let that shame make you go faster! Let it notkeep you back! Jesus bled,Jesus wept, Jesus lives in Heaven. "Ho, everyone that thirsts, come to the waters. And he that has no money, let him buywine and milk, without money and without price." "Whoever will, let him come and take of the Water of Life freely."
There is no sinner too black to be forgiven! There are no iniquities that can damn you if you believe in Jesus! All mannerof sin and iniquity shall be forgiven him who puts his trust in the shadow of Jehovah-Jesus. Look to Him! He dies! He lives!Look, He rises, He pleads above! "Look unto Me andbe you saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is none else." I trust that the whole of your past mysteriouslife, my dear fellow Sinner, will be explained to you tonight by your believing in Jesus. That will be the golden key whichwill open the secret and you willsay, "Now I see it. I could not tell what that mysterious hand was that kept me back from doing a certain thing. I couldnot understand why I was led into such a path, but now I know that it was to take me to the feet of the blessed Savior whereI might be happy forever."
As you look back and think of all the dealings of Divine Grace and Providence with you throughout your life, you will sing-
"Ah, who am I that God has saved Me from the doom I did desire, And crossed the lot myself did crave, To set me even higher?"
I must give one word of warning to those who are afflicting themselves with a notion that in order to a true, real, conversionthey must have a long course of agonizing soul-conflict. You must mark that I am NOT teaching this! The new birth was instantaneous-atonce! Saul of Tarsus calls HimLord and it is only three days that darkness rests upon him. This is the longest case recorded in the Bible-and how shorta time in darkness and anguish that is-compared with the experience of some whom you are regarding as models on which Godmust act in your case.
Remember that God is not the God of uniformity-though He is of union and peace. He may lead you at once into joy and peace,as Nathanael, who said as soon as he saw Christ, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel." God may, anddoubtless has been, blessing you through HisGrace from your birth. But He needs not to plunge you many days in the cold dark waters of conviction to wash away yoursin-the blood of Christ at oncecan cleanse from all sin if you confide your soul to Him. Believe, therefore, and you are atonce justified and at peace withGod. May the Lord bless you all, for Jesus' sake.
[This sermon was originally titled "Prevenient Grace."]