Sermon 849. Unsound Spiritual Trading
Delivered on Lord's-Day, January 10th, 1869, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits."Â— Proverbs 16:2.
DURING THE last two years some of the most notable commercial reputations have been hopelessly destroyed. Men in the greatworld of trade who were trusted for hundreds of thousands of pounds, around whose characters there hovered no cloud of suspicionnor even the shade of doubt, have proved themselves reckless of honesty and devoid of principle. The fiery trial has beentoo much for the wood, hay, and stubble of many a gigantic firm. Houses of business which seemed to be founded upon a rock,and to stand as fast as the commonwealth of England itself, have been shaken to their foundations and have caved in with atremendous crash: on all sides we see the wrecks of great reputations and colossal fortunes. There is wailing in the palacesof sham, and desolation in the halls of pretense. Bubbles are bursting, windbags are collapsing, paint is cracking, gilt ispeeling off. Probably we have more of this to come, more revelations still to be made of apparent wealth which covered insolvency,as a rich paper may cover a mud wall; crafty schemes which duped the public with profits never made, and tempted them to advanceto deeper speculations, even as the mirage of the desert mocks the traveler. We have seen in the public prints month aftermonth, fresh discoveries of the modes of financing adopted by the villainy of this present age, to accomplish robbery respectably,and achieve felony with credit. We have been astonished and amazed at the vile tricks and shameless devices to which men ofeminence have condescended. And yet we have been compelled to hear justifications of gigantic frauds, and have even been compelledto believe that the perpetrators of them did not consider themselves to be acting disreputably, their own previous successes,and the low state of morality, together having lulled them into a state in which conscience, if not dead, was thoroughly asleep.I say, we may probably have yet more to see of this school of dishonesty; but it is a pity that we shouldÂ—and altogether needlessÂ—forthe whole trade of financing is now to be examined by the diligent student, with models and living examples, more than enoughto illustrate every single portion of the art. Some ages may have been great in science, others in art, and others in war,but our era overtops every other in the proficiency of its rascals; this is the classic period of chicanery, the golden ageof fraud. Let a man have a base heart, and a seared conscience, and a plausible mode of address, and let him resolve upondeluding the public out of millions, he need not travel to learn the readiest method, he can find examples near at home amongsthigh professors and the great ones of the earth. My brethren, these noises of falling towers on the right, these sounds ofcrumbling battlements on the left, these cries of the shipwrecked everywhere along the coasts of trade, have not only awakenedwithin me many thoughts relative to themselves and the rottenness of modern society, but they have made me muse upon similarcatastrophes evermore occurring in the spiritual world. Unrecorded in the journals, and unmourned by unregenerate men, thereare failures and frauds and bankruptcies of soul most horrible to think upon. There is a spiritual trading just as pretentiousand apparently just as successful as your vaunted limited liability juggle, but really just as rotten and as sure to end inhopeless overthrow. Speculation is a spiritual vice as well as a commercial oneÂ—trading without capital is common in the religiousworld, and puffery and deception are every-day practices. The outer world is always the representative of the inner; the lifewhich clusters round the Exchange illustrates that which gathers within the church; and if our eyes were opened and our earswere able to hear, the sights and the sounds of the spirit world would far more interest us and sadden us than the doingswhich begin in the directors' board-room and end we know not where. We should see at this moment colossal religious fortunesmelting into abject spiritual poverty. We should see high professors, much reverenced and held in esteem, brought into shameand everlasting contempt. We should see the wealthy in divine matters, whom men have unwisely trusted as their guides andcounsellors as to their souls' best interests, unmasked and proved to be deceitful through and through. I seem at this momentto be peering into the world of spiritual things, and I see many a Babel tower tottering and ready to fall; many a fair treedecaying at the heart; many a blooming cheek undermined by disease. Yes, a sound comes to my ear of men in the church, apparentlyrich and increased in goods, who are naked, and poor, and miserable, and great men whose towering glories are but a fadingflower. There ever have been such, there are many now, and there will be to the end.
The supply of deceivers is sure to be maintained since the text tells us that all the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes;there is a propensity in human nature which leads men, even when they are most wrong, to judge themselves most right. Thetext at the same time suggests the terrible conclusion to which all self-deception will certainly come, for the judgment ofman concerning himself is not final, and there comes a day when the Lord who weigheth the spirits will reverse the verdictof a perjured conscience, and make the man to stand no longer in the false light which his conceit has thrown around him,but in the true light, in which all his fancied glory shall vanish as a dream.
Travelling some time ago in an iron steamboat to the Continent, the captain told me that the compass was far from trustworthywhere so much iron was on every side, and that sometimes, when so far as he knew he had steered correctly, he had found himselfvery considerably out of his course. Though the compass was fixed aloft so as to be as much as possible out of the regionof the metallic attraction, yet the deflection and aberrations in the case of his own compass had been occasionally most remarkable.In like manner our conscience originally as it came from God was no doubt an exceedingly correct standard of right and wrong,and if we had sailed by it we must have reached the haven safely enough; but conscience is now placed in connection with adepraved nature which forbids its accurate working. Now, if the laws of nature would vary to make up for its defects whenthe compass erred, the aberrations would not matter; but if the man is misled by the perverted needle he may unexpectedlybe upon a rock, and will be as surely wrecked as if the helmsman had neglected the compass altogether. So, if God's law couldbe shaped to suit the errors of our judgment it might not matter; but the laws of God stand sternly and inflexibly the same,and if we deviate from the right way through this false judgment of ours we shall be none the less guilty, and we shall findour fate to be none the less terrible. Hence I do approach this matter with a greater vehemence and earnestness this morning,on your account, and with more brokenness and humility of spirit on my own, desiring to speak with divers classes among you,urging you not to be so flattered by your own conceptions of your position as to get out of the course in which you oughtto steer; beseeching you to remember that however well you may cajole yourselves with the idea that your way is right andclear, yet the inevitable judgment-day will come to end all delusions, however pleasant. Spiritual traders, I speak to youthis day, reminding you of the great audit which hastens on, and warning you lest you make a fair show for awhile, and thenin the end come down with a crash. I am sure there is much rotten spiritual trading abroad, and to save you from it I praythe Holy Ghost to help me speak plainly and searchingly this morning.
I intend, as God shall help me, to address the text to different characters. We will endeavor to be practical throughout thesermon, and to push home vital truth with great earnestness upon each one.
I. THE WAYS OF THE OPENLY WICKED are clean in their own eyes, but the Lord will weigh their spirits.
At first sight this statement seems to be rash. The drunkard, the blasphemer, the Sabbath-breaker, can it be that these peopleare right in their own eyes? Solomon was a profound student of human nature, and when he penned this sentence you may restassured he knew what he wrote. They who are best acquainted with mankind will tell you that self-righteousness is not thepeculiar sin of the virtuous, but that most remarkably it flourishes best where there appears to be the least soil for it.Those men who in the judgment of their fellows distinctly and plainly have no righteousness in which they can glory, are thevery persons who, when you come to search into the depth of their nature, are relying upon a fancied goodness which they dreamabout and rest upon. Take the outwardly immoral for a moment and begin to talk with them about their sins, and you will findthat they are accustomed to speak of their faults under very different names from those which Scripture and right reason woulduse. They do not call drunkenness "drunkenness," for instance, but it is "taking a glass." They would not for a moment advocatedownright blasphemy, but it is "strong language which a fellow must use if he's to get on," or "letting slip an ugly wordor so, because you were plagued so." They disguise vice to themselves as pleasure; they label their uncleanness as gaiety,their filthiness as lightheartedness. They speak of their sins as though they had no enormity about them, but were trifleslight as airÂ—if wrong at all, themes rather for the feather lash of ridicule than for the scourge of reproof. Moreover, themost of them will claim that they are not so bad as others. There is some one point in their character in which they do notgo so far as some of their fellows, and this is a grand point and a vast comfort to them. They will confess that they aresinners, not meaning it for a moment; and if you come to particulars and details, if they are in an honest frame of mind theywill recede step by step, admitting fault after fault, till they come to a particular point, and there they take their footingwith virtuous indignation. "Here I am right beyond all rebuke, and even deserving of praise. So far my sin has come, but howthoroughly sound at heart must I be that I have never permitted it to advance further!" This boasted line is frequently sosingular and mysterious in its direction, that no one but the man himself can see any reason or consistency in it; and thesatirist who shoots at folly as it flies, finds abundant objects for his arrows. Yet to that man himself, his pausing thereis the saving clause of his life; he looks to that as the sheet anchor of his character. The woman whose character long sincehas gone, will yet boast some limit to her licentiousness which is merit in her esteemÂ—merit sufficient to make all her waysclean in her own eyes.
Moreover, the worst of men conceive that they have some excellences and virtues, which, if they do not quite atone for theirfaults, yet at any rate greatly diminish the measure of blame which should be awarded them. The man is a spendthrift, "Butsir, he was always freehearted, and nobody's enemy but his own." The man, it is true, would curse God, but then, well, itwas a mere habit, he always was a dashing blade, but he meant no harm; and besides he never was such a liar as So-and-So;and indeed, he scorned to tell a lie upon any business subject. Another has cheated his creditors, but he was such a niceman; and although, poor fellow, he never could keep accounts or manage money matters, yet he always had a good word for everybody.The immoral man, if he sits down to write his own character, and summons all the partiality he is capable of, will say "Iam a sad dog in some respects, sowing a great many wild oats, but I have a fine character underlying it all which will nodoubt come up some day, so that my end shall be bright and glorious notwithstanding all. That last point that I hinted atis very often the righteousness of men who have no other, namely, their intention one of these days much to amend and improve.To make up for present poverty of righteousness they draw a bill upon the future. Their promises and resolves are a sort ofpaper currency on which they imagine they can trade for eternity. "Is it not often done in business?" say they: "A man whohas no present income may have a reversionary interest in an estate; he gets advances thereonÂ—why should not we?" Thus theopen sinner, easing his all too ready conscience with the imaginary picture of his future repentance and amendment, beginsto feel himself already meritorious and bids defiance to all the threatenings of the word of God.
I may be speaking to some to whom these remarks are very applicable, and if so I pray that they may lead to serious thought.My hearer, you must know, or at any rate a few sober moments of reflection would make you know, that there is no truth inthe pleas, excuses, and promises with which you now quiet your conscience; your peace is founded on a lie, and is upheld bythe father of lies. Whilst you are continuing recklessly to break the laws of God in your ordinary life and to take pleasurein sin, you most assuredly are under the anger of God and you are heaping up wrath against the day of wrath, and when themeasure of your iniquity is full then shall you receive the terrible reward of transgression. The Judge of all the earth willnot pay regard to the idle preterites which now stultify your conscience. He is not a man that he should be flattered as youflatter and deceive yourself. You would not have the impertinence to tell your excuses to him. Dare you kneel down now andspeak to the great God in heaven and tell him all these fine things with which you are now smoothing your downward road? Ihope you have not come to such a brazen pitch of impertinence as that, but if you have let me remind you of that second sentenceof my text, "The Lord weigheth the spirits." A just and true balance will be used upon you ere long. When the Lord puts suchas you are into the scale, there will be no need for delay; the sentence will go forth at once and from it there shall beno appeal: "Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting." Ah then my hearer, when that conscience of yours wakes up,how it will torment you! It sleeps now, drugged by the opiates of your ignorance and perverseness; but it will start up soonlike a giant refreshed with new wine, and then with strength and fury unthought of before it will pull down the temple ofyour peace about your ears, even as Samson smote the Philistines. An awakened conscience in another world is the worm thatdieth not and the fire which never can be quenched. O sirs, it is a dreadful thing to be delivered up to one's own consciencewhen that conscience is enlisted on the side of right. Old tyrants had their terrible headsmen with grim masks across theirbrows who carried the bright and gleaming axe; the old inquisitors had their familiars arrayed in gowns of serge and cowls,from the loopholes of which their fierce eyes gleamed like wolves; but no tormentors, yea, no fiends of hell, can ever provemore terrible to a man than his conscience when its lash is corded with truth and weighted with honesty. Did you ever spellthe burning letters of that word remorse? Within the bowels of that single word there lieth hell with all its torments. O sirs, if you be but a little aroused nowby an earnest sermon or a sudden death, how wretched you feel and how desperately you plunge into fresh gaiety and wantonnessto drown your thoughts; but what will you do with thoughts which no dissipation can drown, and remembrances which no mirthcan banish? What will it be to be haunted by your sins for ever and for ever? What to have it made sure to you that from theguilt and punishment no way of escape can ever be discovered?
O you who fondly dream that the broad road to destruction is the upward path to celestial bliss, I beseech you, learn wisdomand hearken to the voice of instruction; consider your ways and seek unto the precious blood which alone can blot our yoursins.
II. A second class I will now address. THE WAYS OF THE GODLESS MAN are clean in his own eyes, but the Lord weigheth the spirits.
The godless man is often exceedingly upright and moral in his outward behavior to his fellow men. He has no religion, buthe glories in a multitude of virtues of another kind. It is unhappily true that there are many who have much that is amiableabout them who nevertheless are unamiable and unjust towards the one Being who ought to have the most of their love, and whoshould have been respected in their conduct first of all. How often have I met with the ungodly man who has said, "You talkto me about fearing God! I know him not, neither do I regard him, but I am much better than those who do." He will sometimessay, "Your religion I look upon as a mere farce: I regard Christians as being made up of two sorts, knaves and fools. Theyare either duped by others, or else for purposes of their own they are deceiving others. Their talk about God, sir, it isall cant; with some of them I grant you it is not quite that, but then they have too few brains to be able to discover thatthey are deceived. However, take the whole thing for all in all, it is all a piece of nonsense, and if people just behaveas they ought towards their neighbors and do their duty in their station in life, that is enough." Yes, and there are in thiscity of London thousands, and hundreds of thousands, who think this to be good logic, and indeed who open their eyes withastonishment if for a single moment you are supposed to contradict their statement that such a style of life is the best andmost commendable; and yet if they would but think, nothing can be more unsound than their life and its supposed excellence.Here is a man created by his God, and he is put down amongst his fellow creatures; surely the first duty that he owes is towardshis Creator. His life depends entirely upon that Creator's willÂ—it must be his first duty to have respect to him in whosehands his breath is; but this man not only refuses to be obedient to the law of his Creator and have regard to him in hisdaily actions, but turns round to his neighbours who are mere creatures like himself, and he says "I will have respect toyou, but not to God. Any laws of the state which bind me in my relation to you I will obey; but any laws which describe myrelation to God I will not consider except it be to ridicule and laugh at them. I will be obedient to any but to God; I willdo the right thing to any but to the Most High. I have a sense of right and wrong but I will restrict its action to my fellowmen, and that sense of right and wrong when it comes in relation to God I will utterly obliterate." Now if there were no Godthis man were wise enough, but as there is a God who created us, and who shall surely come in the clouds of heaven to callevery one of us to account for the things which we have done in the body, what think you will be the judgment dealt out tothis unfaithful servant? Will he dare to say unto his King, "I knew that thou wast my Maker and Lord, but I considered thatif I served my fellow servants it would be enough. I knew what was right to them, but I disregarded the doing of anythingthat was right towards thee"? Shall not the answer be, "Thou wicked and faithless servant, thou knewest what was right andwrong, and yet towards me, having first claim upon thee, thou hast acted unjustly, and whilst thou wouldst bow thy neck toothers thou wouldst not yield to me. Depart from me, I know thee not. Thou didst not know me, neither do I know thee. I weighthee in the balances, and I find thee utterly reprobate. Thou art cast away for ever." O ungodly man, let this warning, ifthou be here this morning, sound in thy heart as well as thy ears: no longer set thyself in defiance to thy Creator or livein negligence of him, but say, "I will arise and go unto my Father; I will confess that I have forgotten him and despisedhim, and I will seek peace through the blood of Jesus Christ."
III. Further, I shall address myself to another class of persons. In all ages of the church, and especially at this time,there are numbers of persons who are OUTWARDLY RELIGIOUS, but whose religion ends there.
Now it seems to some of us amazingly strange that a man should be acting viciously, should be living wickedly, and yet shouldthink that his ways are clean because he takes a sacrament or attends a certain place of worship. I must confess to my mindthis seems a very strange phenomenon, that there should exist men of intelligence in this world who know that their conductis altogether blameworthy and yet feel perfectly at ease because a chosen ritual has been diligently observed; as if bowingand scraping, singing or groaning could be a substitute for holiness of heart. Look at the Pharisee and tell me if he be nota moral wonder! He devours widows' houses, he is ready to prey on everything that comes to hand; he is a detestable hypocrite,but the man is perfectly at ease because he has made broad the border of his garments, because he fasts twice in the week,and strains out gnats from the wine that he drinks; he is quite content with himself and all his ways seem right, so right,indeed, that other men who are better than he, he passes by with contempt, afraid lest they should come between the wind andhis nobility. He thanks God that he is not as other men, when so far as you and I can judge he is ten thousand fathoms deeperdown in dark damnation in his horribly hypocritical character. Yet brethren, some form or other of this is very common. Allthe ways of a man are clean unto him when he once imbibes the idea that ceremonial religion, or religious talk, or religiousprofession, can make up for moral sin. Ah brethren, this evil may even creep in among ourselves. Let us not be so swift incondemning the Pharisee when perhaps the same sin may pollute our own souls. I have known the man who was reckoned a soundCalvinist and believed in very high doctrine, live a very unhallowed life. He despised "Arminians," as he chose to call them,though some of these despised ones lived very near to God and walked in holiness and integrity. The Arminian, forsooth, godlyman as he was, would be lost; but this self-righteous orthodox man who could at the same time drink and cheat thought thathe should be saved because he had been able to see the truth of certain doctrines, which also the devil sees as well as he.I have known another who thought he had a deep and memorable experience who would talk by the yard of the depravity of hisheart. Some people thinking that he ought to be able to talk about that very truly, for he proved it in his life; and yetbecause he could repeat cant phrases and had picked up certain rich expressions of experience from books, he verily thoughtwithin himself that he was not only as good as others but a very pattern for others to copy. Right and left such men as thesewill hurl curses and anathemas upon the best and most earnest of saints. They are the menÂ—wisdom will die with them. Holinessbeing dead already with them, it is no wonder that wisdom should die too. Ah! take care lest you and I drink in the same spiritin another shape. Ah! preacher, thy preaching may be all well and good, it may be sound enough and right enough, and it maybe even edifying to the people of God and arousing to the unconverted. But remember, God will not judge thee by thy sermonsbut by thy spirit, for he weigheth not thy words but thy motive, thy desire, thine object in preaching the gospel. Deaconof the church, you may have walked in all honor for many years and may be universally respected, and thine office may havebeen well maintained in all the outward duties of it, but if thy heart be not right, if some secret sin be indulged, if therebe a canker upon thy profession which none know but thine own self, the Lord who weighs the spirit will make nothing of thydeaconship and thy carrying round the cups and bread at the communion, but thou shalt be found wanting and cast away. Thoutoo, brother elder, thy labors and thy prayers are nothing if the heart be evil. Thou mayst have visited others and instructedthem and been a judge of their state; still, if thou hast not served God and his church out of a pure desire for his glory,thou too, put into the scales, shall be rejected with abhorrence. I often prayÂ—I wish however I prayed it moreÂ—that none ofus here may be preached into the idea that we are all right if we are all wrong. It is not your coming to the Tabernacle,it is not your joining the church, your being baptised, your attending prayer-meetings, or your doing anything that will bethe slightest matter in this businessÂ—it is your giving up your hearts to God truly, and your living in conformity with yourprofession; and unless the grace of God be really given you, helping you to do this, your ways may be clean unto you becauseof your outward profession; but the Lord who weigheth the spirits will make short work of these bubbles, he will break thisconfectionery, smash to pieces these shams, and leave the man who ought to have a palace over his head throughout eternityto sit down and shiver amongst the ruins of his Babylon, and cry out and weep and wail amongst dragons and fiends.
IV. But to pass on, there is another character that must be addressed. "All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes,"so are THE WAYS OF THE COVETOUS PROFESSOR.
It is marvellous to some of us that a man whose object in life is merely to get money and who withholds what he has from thecause of God should take up the profession of being a Christian man, because none of all the vices is more contrary to truereligion than covetousness. Where will you find an instance of a single saint in Scripture that ever fell into covetousness?Into all other sins have they fallen, but into this one I do not remember that one child of God mentioned in Scripture everdescended. Grace may exist where there are many occasional sins, but never where there is abiding covetousness. Think of Paul'swords: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither, fornicators, noridolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards,nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." Luther used to say, "I have been tempted to all sins butcovetousness." This he so detested that he distributed gifts made to him lest he should have his portion in this world. Adams,in his book on Peter, well remarks, "Noah was once drunk with wine but never with the world; Lot, twice incestuous, nevercovetous; Peter denied his Master thrice, but it was not the love but the fear of the world that brought him to it. Once Davidwas overcome by the flesh, never by covetousness. Why did not these purge themselves from adultery, anger, and the like? Becauseinto these sins the infirmities of a saint may fall, but if once into covetousness there is nothing of a saint leftÂ—not eventhe name. Covetousness hath the brand of God's hate full on its brow." "If any man love the world, the love of the Fatheris not in him;" and when a professor shows the love of the world in its grossest shape, when he gives way to being the slaveof "Mammon, the least erect of all the fiends," he bears evidence to all who judge righteously according to Scripture thatthe love of God is not in him, and cannot be in him; the two things are inconsistent. Yet, strange to say we do know not afew whose way seems very clean to them. They screw here and there, now their servants, and now their customers: the widowand the fatherless would not be safe from them if they could pick their bones. What they scrape together is held with an irongrasp. Let souls be damned, they shall have no missionary sent to them by their money. Let this London fester with sin, letit be covered with the ulcers of the most fearful depravity, they are never stirred to give any assistance towards the healingof the city's wounds. And yet while their damnation awaits them certainly, and their condemnation stares them in the faceas plainly as the sun in the heavens, yet their ways seem clean unto them. Strange it should be so, but the Lord weigheththe spirits, and what a weighing that shall be when men who escape church censure because theirs was a sin of which the churchcould not deal with, shall be found guilty of it, and God shall cast them away! Vain will be their pretensions that they ateand they drank in God's house, for the answer shall come, "I was an hungered and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty and yegave me no drink; naked, and ye clothed me not. I was sick and in prison, and ye did not minister unto me. Verily I say untoyou, I know ye not!" O let this truth, for truth it is, pierce like a two-edged sword right through the hearts of any of youwho are beginning to yield to this damning vice. Cry unto God that as he gives you substance you may use it for his glory.Ask him that you may never perish with a millstone about your neck; for even if that killing weight be made of gold it willbe no better perishing for all that.
V. Another character must have a word also: we will now note THE WAYS OF THE WORLDLY PROFESSOR.
It is amazing how some people making a profession of religion, square it with their conscience that they live as they do live.You could not with a microscope detect any difference between them and common worldlings, and yet they think there is a vastdifference, and they would be insulted if you did not allow it. Here they come up to the house of God to-day, but to whatamusements have they been during the week? How are they dressed? How are their children educated? Is there any family prayer?Is there anything in the household that is Christian? Look at them in business. Do not they trade precisely like those whomake no pretensions to religion? Ask their workpeople, just go yourselves and watch themÂ—see if they cannot tell white liesas well as others, whether they are not for all the world as alike as two peas are to one another, like other unregenerateand unconverted people! and yet their ways seem very clean unto them, very clean indeed, and their conscience does not troublethem in any way whatever. I have but this word to say in all affection to such, earnestly desiring that they may be pluckedout of this fire, "the Lord will weigh the spirits." The whole of our life is known to him. He will not judge us without book.When he comes to the account he will not be like a judge who has to learn the facts; he will come to the last assize, havingseen with those eyes of fire the secret thoughts, the private feelings of our life. God be merciful to us sinners, we mayall of us say; but God especially save us from being like the ungodly.
VI. Yet another word, and this is addressed to all professors here more or less: it is a solemn word concerning THE WAYS OFSECURE BACKSLIDERS.
Do you not know brethren and sisters, that very often our ways seem very clean to us when they are not. I have learned byexperience most painful to my own soul, that I am not in the least qualified to judge of my own spiritual health: I have thoughtmyself gradually advancing in the ways of God when I have been going back, and I have had the conceit crossing my mind thatI had now overcome a certain besetting sin, when to my surprise I had found it return with greater force than before. Fellowprofessor, you may be at this moment walking as you think very rightly, and going off very well and comfortably, but let meask you a few questions: are you not less in private prayer than you used to be? Do you not now hurry over it, do you notsometimes omit it altogether? Do you not frequently come from your closet without really having spoken to God, having merelygone through the form for the sake of quieting yourself? Your way may seem clean, but is it not foul when the mercy-seat becomesneglected? How about your Bible, is that read as it once was, and are the promises as sweet to you? Do they ever rise fromthe page and talk with you? Oh, but if your Bible be neglected my brother, you may be just as diligent in attending to thehouse of God as you used to be, but is not yours a sad state of decay? Let me come closer still. Is there the vitality aboutyour profession that there used to be? There are some in this house this morning who if they could speak, would tell you thatwhen to their great sorrow they fell into sin, it was because by little and little their piety began to lose its force andpower of life. They have been restored, but their bones still ache where they were once broken, and I am sure they would sayto their brethren "Take care of allowing a gracious spirit to evaporate, as it were, by slow degrees. Watch carefully overit, lest settling upon your lees and not being emptied from vessel to vessel you should by-and-by become carnally secure,and afterwards fall into actual sin. I ask some of my brethren here, and I ask the question because I have asked it of myown soul and answered it very tearfully, may not some of us be growing hardened in heart with regard to the salvation of ourfellow creatures? Do we not love less now than we used to do, those who are crying to us, "Come over and help us"? Do we notthink ourselves getting to be experienced saints? We are not the poor sinners we once used to be. We do not come broken-heartedlyto the mercy-seat as we did. We begin to judge our fellow Christians and we think far less of them than we did years ago whenwe used almost to love the ground that the Lord's saints did tread upon, thinking ourselves to be less than nothing in theirsight. Now if it were the case in others, that they were growing proud, or becoming cold, or waxing hard of heart, we shouldsay of them, "they are in great danger," but what about ourselves if that be the case with us? For my own self, I dread lestI should come to this pulpit merely to preach to you because the time has come and I must get through an hour or an hour-and-a-halfof worship. I dread getting to be a mere preaching machine without my heart and soul being exercised in this solemn duty;and I dread for you, my dear friends who hear me constantly, lest it should be a mere piece of clock-work that you shouldbe in the seats at certain times in the week, and should sit there and patiently hear the din which my noise makes in yourears. We must have vital godliness, and the vitality of it must be maintained, and the force and energy of our religion mustgo on to increase day by day, or else though our ways may seem to be very clean the Lord will soon weigh our spirits to oureternal confusion. Do you know that to his people the divine weighing in fatherly chastisement is rough work, for he can putthe soul into the scale to our own consciousness, and when we think that it weighs pounds he can reveal to us that it doesnot even reach to drachms! "There," saith he, "see what you are!" and he begins to strip off the veil of self-conceit, andwe see the loathsomeness and falsehood of our nature, and we are utterly dismayed. Or perhaps the Lord does worse than that.He suffers a temptation to come when we do not expect it, and then the evil bolls up within us, and we who thought we werenext door to the cherubs find ourselves near akin to the demons; wondering too that such a wild beast should have slumberedin the den of our hearts, whereas we ought to have known it was always there and to have walked humbly with God, and watchedand guarded ourselves. Rest assured beloved, great falls and terrible mischief never come to a Christian man at once, theyare a work of slow degrees; and be assured too that you may glide down the smooth waters of the river and never dream of theNiagara beyond, and yet you may be speeding towards it. An awful crash may yet come to the highest professor among us thatshall make the world to ring with blasphemy against God, and the church to resound with bitter lamentations because the mightyhave fallen. God will keep his own, but how if I should turn out not to be his own! He will keep the feet of his saints, butwhat if I leave off to watch and my feet should not be kept, and I should turn out to be no saint of his, but a mere intruderinto his family, and a pretender to have what I never had! O God, through Christ Jesus deliver each of us from this.
VII. Had time not failed me I meant to speak concerning the seventh and last character, namely, THE WAYS OF THE DECEIVED MAN.
There are, no doubt, many in the world who will never find out that their ways which they thought to be so clean are all foultill they enter upon another world. There are some men who are Christians in all but this, that they have not true faith inJesus. There are others who apparently are saved, but they have never been really born again. There are many who have everythingbut the one thing needful, and who think they have that, and persuade their fellows that they have that. How near a man maycome to being a Christian and yet miss salvation it were difficult to tell; but certainly he may come so near that no mannor yet the angels of God shall be able to tell the difference between him and a saved soul, only God shall discern the differencewhen he comes to weigh the spirits.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. It is this: let us come my brethren, all of us, to the place of confessionof sin and acknowledge that we have broken God's law, and deserve his just displeasure. Let us go by the help of his HolySpirit, who is the Spirit of supplication, and let us confess the depravity of our nature and the error of our hearts. Letus pray that instead of thinking our ways clean, we may know them to be foul, may mourn over them, and may learn to see themas God sees them, as crooked ways and wrong ways in themselves not to be boasted of, but to be remembered with shame and confusionof face. Blessed is he who is delivered from any rejoicing in himself. Happy is that man who can see no speck of soundnessin his own flesh, but who feels that the leprosy of sin hath covered him without and within from head to foot. And brethren,if we come to such deep humiliation of spirit, the next word is this: let us go together to the great salvation which Godhas provided in the person of Christ Jesus. Come, linking hand in hand, saint and sinner, now all sinners consciously, letus stand and see where sin has pierced the body of the blessed Substitute with yonder bleeding wounds. Let us read the linesof grief written upon that blessed face; let us gaze into the depth of his soul filled with an ocean of anguish, lashed toa tempest of suffering; let us believe that he suffered in our stead and so roll our sin and our sinfulness on him. Jesus,accept a sinner, a poor sinner still; though these twenty years I have known thy name, yet still a sinner I come to thee,the chief of sinners! Ah, brethren and sisters, we are never safer I am sure, never healthier, never in a better frame thanwhen we are right flat down on the ground before the cross. When you feel yourself to be utterly unworthy you have hit thetruth. When you think you are doing something and are rich and flourishing, you are poor, and naked, and miserable; but whenyou are consciously weak and sinful, then you are rich. When you are weak you are strong; but O God, save us from lettingour ways seem clean in our own sight, but may we weigh our spirits by the help of thy Spirit, and condemn ourselves that wemay not be condemned of the Lord.
The Lord bless you richly and freely for his name's sake. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMONÂ—Psalm 51.