« PreviousContinue »
the constitution under which, in the administration of God you live, has made you immortal beings, and as to this great concern you have no option. Eternal life, or eternal misery, must be your portion; you cannot go back into non-existence; once in being you are immortal. There might be wisdom in resisting God, if you could either find some way to heaven which he has not revealed, or if, in default of finding that, you could sink into annihilation, and thus escape from him. But you can do neither the one nor the other. You are shut up in a dilemma which suffers no escape but the refuge and the hope of the Gospel. O, my dying fellow-sinners, take the word of God, I beseech you, and be wise. “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”
JOY OVER REPENTING SINNERS.
LUKE XV, 7.
I say unto you, That likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that re
penteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repent
THERE is nothing in this world more easy than to make a plain subject difficult. It requires only a man of ingenuity to embarrass the most perfectly intelligible proposition. This is the experience of every day. A lawyer of accomplished talent, who might not be under the influence of the strictest moral principles, can take a matter before a jury of twelve plain, common-sense men, who, by the exercise of their unbiased understanding, would find no possibility of mistake; and yet, by dint of sufficient argument and reference to authorities, may so involve the whole subject in smoke, as to make it impossible for any man, with ordinary eyes, to see it in its true shape. I do not pretend to say, my friends, that this is ever done; I only say that it may
Any subject, perfectly plain in itself, may be so covered up with arguments, and explanations, and references, that it will cost a great deal of trouble to get at the simplicity of the case. Now, my friends, this is precisely the situation of the text which I have read to you to-day. The meaning is perfectly obvious to any one who reads it in its connexion. But it has been supposed to involve a difficulty; that supposition has led persons into explanations; these explanations have accumulated; upon these explanations theories have been built; and then arguments have been multiplied to support the theories; and the truth has been buried so deep that no one can see it, unless they upset the theories, and disavow the arguments, and turn off the explanations, and abandon the supporters, and then look at the subject just as it is written. This is what I purpose to ask you to do at this time. But there is some clearing away of rubbish before I can safely get even thus far.
Two errors of a very different description have been grafted on the misconception of this passage. The first is, that there is a class of persons who need no repentance; and the second is an error charged on Christianity by infidels, viz: that Christianity teaches, the greater the sinner the greater the saint; for if there is more joy in heaven, say they, over one sinner than over ninety-nine good persons, then the best way to give joy in heaven, is to be as bad as possible and then to repent. I wish to bestow a few words on this latter objection, not in explanation of the text, but in order to show the absurdity and impiety of the objection.
Suppose a man has ten children, and while every one of them, in some matter, may have occasion
ally displeased the father, yet nine of them, upon the whole, gave him satisfaction, while one ran off and become intemperate and licentious. Suppose that one should see the error of his ways, and return to the father's house, what is the usual language which would take place? Is there a father here who is not fully persuaded that the thorough reformation of a profligate son, who had caused him naught but uneasiness, would, at the moment, excite in his mind a much more vivid sensation of joy than the habitual regularity of his other nine, who had not wandered away? I wish you to bear in mind, my friends, that I am now not speaking on the text, but on a slander which infidels state to grow out of it. The text, as I shall show you, does not justify any such remark. But return to the case. Suppose such a sentence as this, perfectly natural, should fall from the mouth of the father-I have more exquisite pleasure from the reformation of that child, than of all my other children. Now, who in his senses would venture to assert that this father, by the use of such language, inculcated the doctrine, that it was far more agreeable to him that his one son went off and became a profligate, than his nine staid at home and behaved themselves correctly? Who would think of any such thing? Therefore, the idea that such a passage inculcates the licentious maxim—the greater the sinner the greater the saint, is an outrageous slander, not only on Scripture, but on common sense and common decency
The other error is, that there is actually a class of persons who need no repentance. Now take the text and cut it loose from the verses which precede and succeed it, and I grant that the proposition
may be made out. Two classes of persons have done this injustice. 1. Religious; and 2, irreligious people. I have only reference to the one. Religious people have cut the text loose, and then they have been forced to get at explanations. One has said — The just persons represent those who have already repented, and therefore they do not need repentance, as the term is here used. This is true enough, perfectly true; but it is not the meaning of the text. Another has said - Just, means justified, or made righteous, in consequence of embracing Christ, and being accepted by God in him. Such need no repentance as is here represented. This is also true, but this is not the meaning of the text. This doctrine of justification was not fully preached till after the death and resurrection and ascension of Christ. It was a consequence of his sacrifice perfected. Some more plausibly have said, that the just is a term used to represent the chosen people of God the Jews, and sinner the Gentiles, so that it merely alludes to the calling of the Gentiles. All these explanations are forced and unnatural. The doctrines of these explanations are all true; but their application to the parable is false.
Now, my brethren, let us try if we can look at the subject, with these difficulties out of the way. Let us examine the character of the transaction-" Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear hmi.” Here we have, in the first place, publicans. Who were they? They were persons especially despised for the employment which they held. Sinners. Who were they? In the phraseology of the times, low and profligate persons were meant; thus, a woman who was a sinner, means one who is aban