A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Evening, December 15, 1861, By Pastor C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
Still they did not believe for joy. (Luke 24:41)
1. This is a very strange sentence, but the Christian is a very complex being. He is a compound of the fallen and of the perfect. He detects in himself continually an alternation between the almost diabolical and the divine. Man himself is a contradiction, but the Christian is that contradiction made more paradoxical. He cannot comprehend himself, and only those who are like him can understand him. When he wishes to do good he finds evil present with him. How to will he often finds, but how to perform he does not. He is the greatest riddle in the universe. He can say with Ralph Erskine
I’m in my own and others’ eyes,
A labyrinth of mysteries.
In the case before us, the disciples obviously saw Christ before their eyes. To a certain extent they believed in his resurrection; that belief gave them joy, and at once that very joy made them unbelieving. They looked again; they believed once more and immediately, a wave of joy rolled right over the head of their faith, and then their doubts returned afresh! What palpitations, what heavings of the heart they had! “It is too good to be true,” they said. This is the summing up of the mental process which was going on within—“It is true; how blessed it is; it cannot be true because it is so blessed.” Tonight I shall endeavour to address that timid but hopeful tribe of people who have heard of the greatness and preciousness of the salvation of Christ, and have so far believed, that they have been filled with happiness on account of it, but that very enjoyment has made them doubt, and they have exclaimed—“It can not be; it is not possible; this exceeds all my expectations; it is, in fact, too good.” I remember to have been myself the subject of this temptation. Overjoyed to possess the treasure which I had found hidden in the field, delighted beyond all measure with the hope that I had an interest in Christ, I feared that the gold might be counterfeit, the pearl a cheat, my hope a delusion, my confidence a dream. Newly delivered from the thick darkness, the overwhelming brightness of grace threatened to blind my eyes. Laden with the new favours of a young spiritual life the excessive weight of the mercy staggered my early strength and I was for some time troubled with the thought that these things must be a great deal to good to be true. If God had been half as merciful or a tenth as kind as he was, I could have believed it, but such exceeding riches of his grace were too much; outdoing himself in goodness, and giving exceeding abundantly above what one could ask or even think, seemed too much to believe.
2. We will at once attempt to deal with this temptation. First of all, I will try to account for it; then, secondly, to recount the reasons which forbid us to indulge it for long; and then, thirdly, turn the very temptation itself into a reason why we should be more earnest in seeking these good things.
Accounting for This Temptation
3. I. To begin, LET ME ACCOUNT FOR IT.
4. It is little marvel that the spirit is amazed even to astonishment and doubt when you think of the greatness of the things themselves. The black sinner says—“My iniquity is great; I deserve the wrath of God; the gospel presents me with a pardon, full and complete. I have laboured to wash out these stains, but they will not disappear; the gospel tells me that the precious blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin. Year after year I have revolted and gone astray; the gospel tells me that he is able to forgive all my sins, and to cast my iniquities behind my back.” Bowed down with a sense of the greatness of his guilt, you may excuse the sinner if he thinks it must be impossible that the offences he has committed could ever be condoned, or his iniquity could be put away. “No,” he says, “I am a condemned sinner, and the promise of a free pardon is too much for me to believe.
Depths of mercy can there be,
Pardon yet reserved for me.
Indeed, more,” says the poor soul, “I am told that God is prepared to justify me; to give me a perfect righteousness; to look upon me as though I had always been a faithful servant; to regard me, to all intents and purposes, as though I had kept all his laws without any offence, and had obeyed all his statutes without any exception. According to the Scriptures, I am to be robed with the finished righteousness of Christ, clothed in that garment which he spent his life to create, and I am in that garment to stand accepted in the Beloved. It is too good to be true,” says the soul; “it cannot be. I, the condemned one, accepted? I, who never kept God’s law received as though I had kept it wholly? I, who have broken it, pressed to his heart as though I were perfect in innocence?” It does startle the soul, and well it may. And when the gospel goes on to add—“Indeed, and not only will I justify you, but I will adopt you; you shall be no more a servant but a son, no more a bondslave but an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ”—the mind cannot grasp the whole of that thought. “Adopted, received into his family! Alas,” it cries, “I am not worthy to be called God’s son.” And as the sinner looks upon its former abject and lost estate, and looks upward to the brightness of the inheritance which adoption secures for it, it says—“It is impossible,” and like Sarah he laughs, saying, “How can this be? How can it be possible that I should attain to these things?” And then the gospel adds—“Soul, I will not only adopt you, but having sanctified you entirely—your whole spirit, soul, and body—I will crown you; I will bring you to the mansions of the blessed in the land of the happy; I will put a new song into your mouth and the palm of victory in your hand; you shall play the harp of triumph; your soul shall be deluged with delight, and your spirit shall bathe itself in everlasting and unbroken peace. Heaven is yours, though you deserve hell; God’s glory is yours, though you deserve wrath.” It is little marvel that these things, being so excessively great, the poor broken heart should be like the captives who returned from Babylon, who were “like men who dream.”
When God restored our captive state,
Joy was our song, and grace our theme;
The grace beyond our hopes so great,
That joy appeared a painted dream.
5. Another reason for incredulity may be found in our sense of unworthiness. Note the person who receives these mercies, and you will not wonder that he does not believe for joy. “Ah,” he says, “if these things were given to the righteous I could believe it, but to me, an old offender; to me, a hard hearted despiser of the overflowing love of God; to me, who have looked on the slaughtered body of the Saviour without a tear, and viewed the precious blood of redemption without delight; to me, who have blasphemed, who have done despite to the spirit of his grace and trodden underfoot his truth,—oh!” says this poor heart, “I could believe it for anyone; I could believe it for the whole world sooner than for myself!” For you must know that the repenting sinner always has a deeper view of his own sin than of the sin of others, and in this he differs from the impenitent, who have very keen eyes to see offences in other men, but are blind to their own. He truly esteems himself the chief of sinners. He thinks that if anyone could have had the hottest place in hell that must surely have been his proper portion, and it is so wonderful to him that he should be saved, that his spirit laughs with a kind of incredulity. “What, I, the man who sat in the public house and could sing a lascivious song? shall I sit at the right hand of God, and be glorified with Christ? What, I, whose heart blasphemed its Creator—whose soul has been a very den of thieves—can I be accepted, washed, and saved?” Brethren, when any of us look back upon our past lives we can find enough ground for astonishment if God has been pleased to choose us; hence, I say, it is not a strange or a singular thing that the poor heart, from very excess of joy, should be unable to believe.
6. Add to these the strange terms upon which God presents these thing to poor sinners. The miracle of the manner equals the marvel of the matter. God comes to the sinner, and he does not say to him, “Do penance; pass through years of weariness; renounce every pleasure; become a monk; live in the woods; make yourself a hermit; torture your body; cut yourself with knives; starve yourself; cover yourself with a shirt of hair, or wear a chain belt around your waist.” No, if he did, it would not appear so wonderful; but he comes to the sinner and he says, “Sinner, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” No works are asked of you; he demands no ceremonies, but simply trust your soul with Christ. Oh, simple words! oh, easy terms! They are not terms at all, for these he gives to us; his Spirit enables us to trust in Jesus. If he had bidden us to do some great thing, we should have been very willing to attempt it, but when it is simply, “wash and be clean”—“Oh,” we say, “that simple thing, that easy plan, that scheme which is as well suited for the beggar as for the king, as suitable for the poor abandoned prostitute as for the most moral of the Pharisees; that scheme which adapts itself to the ignorant and the rude as well as to the learned and polite,” our spirit says, “ah, it is a joyous plan,” and yet, from very joy, it is unable to believe.
7. And add to this one more thought,—the method by which God proposes to work all this; that is to say, he proposes to pardon, and to justify the sinner instantaneously. The plan of salvation requires not months nor weeks in which his sin may be put away. It is finished. An instant is enough to receive it, and in that instant the man is saved. The moment a man believes in Christ, not some of his sins, but all his sins are gone. Just as when God blew with his wind, the Egyptians were all drowned at once in the waters of the Red Sea, and Moses said, “You shall see them no more for ever,” so, as soon as we believe in Christ, the breath of God’s pardoning love blows upon the waters, and our sins sink into the bottom like a stone; there is not one, not one of them left. It is like the situation when a man takes a bond, you are his debtor; he can imprison you, but he holds the bond in the candle, and he says, “See here!” and when it is burned, your whole debt, though it would be ten or twenty thousand pounds, is gone in a moment. So does faith; it sees the handwriting of the ordinances that was against us taken away and nailed to Christ’s cross. Now this does seem a surprising thing; it is so surprising that when men have heard it for the first time they have been willing to run anywhere to listen to it again. This was the secret of Whitfield’s popularity. The gospel was a new thing in his age to the mass of the people. They were like blind men who, having had their eyes opened, and being suddenly taken out at night to view the stars, could not refrain from clapping their hands for joy. The first sight of land is always blessed to the sailor’s eyes; and the men of those days felt that they saw heaven in the distance and the port of peace. It is no wonder that they rejoiced even to tears. It was good news to their spirits, and there were some then, as there are now, who could not believe by reason of their excessive joy.
8. Possibly John Bunyan alludes to this singular unbelief in his sweet picture of Mercy’s dream, where, like Sarai, she laughed. Let me tell it to you in his own words:—“In the morning, when they were awake, Christiana said to Mercy, What was the matter that you did laugh in your sleep tonight? I suppose you were in a dream. MERCY: So I was, and a sweet dream it was; but are you sure I laughed? CHRISTIANA: Yes you laughed heartily; but please, Mercy, tell me your dream. MERCY: I was dreaming that I sat all alone in a solitary place, and was bemoaning the hardness of my heart. Now, I had not sat there long, but I thought many were gathered around me to see me, and to hear what it was that I said. So they listened, and I went on bemoaning the hardness of my heart. At this, some of them laughed at me, some called me a fool, and some began to push me around. With that, I thought I looked up, and saw one coming with wings towards me. So he came directly to me and said, ‘Mercy, what ails you?’ Now, when he had heard me make my complaint, he said, ‘Peace be to you! He also wiped my eyes with his handkerchief, and clothed me in silver and gold. He put a chain around my neck, and earrings in my ears, and a beautiful crown upon my head. Then he took me by the hand and said, ‘Mercy, come after me!’ So he went up, and I followed, until we came to a golden gate. Then he knocked; and, when those within had opened, the man went in, and I followed him up to a throne, upon which one sat; and he said to me, ‘Welcome, daughter!’ The place looked bright and twinkling, like the stars, or rather like the sun; and I thought that I saw your husband there; so I awoke from my dream. But did I laugh?” Well might her mouth be filled with laughter to see herself so favoured!
Why We Are Forbidden to Indulge It for Long
9. II. Having thus tried to account for this state of the heart, may I have the help of God while I try to DO BATTLE WITH THE EVIL THAT IS IN IT, THAT WE MAY BE ABLE TO BELIEVE IN CHRIST!
10. Troubled heart, let me remind you, first of all, that you have no need to doubt the truth of the precious revelation because of its greatness, for he is a great God who makes the precious revelation to you. Did you expect that he, the King of heaven, rich in mercy and abundant in longsuffering, would send little grace, little love, and little pity to the sons of men? What does the Scripture say about Araunah the Jebusite?—“All these things Araunah did, as a king, give to the king.” But what shall we say about God? Shall he give like a king? Indeed, he is King of kings, and he gives as kings can never give. When Alexander asked his officer to request whatever reward he pleased, he asked so much that he nearly emptied the treasury, and when the treasurer refused to pay it, and came to Alexander and said, “This man is unreasonable; he asks for too much”—“Indeed,” said the conqueror, “he asks from Alexander, and he measures what he asks by my dignity.” So remember that God will not give parsimoniously and niggardly, for that would be unworthy of him, but he will give splendidly and magnificently, for this is according to his own nature. Expect, therefore, that he will save great sinners in a great and glorious way, and give them great mercies, for the Lord is a great God and a great King above all gods. The riches of his grace are inexhaustible. He is the Father of mercies, and he creates mercies by thousands and by millions to supply his people’s needs. You meet a poor man, and you are hungry. If he would be hospitable he might say, “Come in, sir, and you may have a part of my crust.” You go in and you find a scanty meal upon the table, and you say, “What you have given me is all you had to give, I thank you for it.” But what would you think if you waited at the royal door and received a royal invitation, and, when you went in, were fed with dry crusts and drops of water? You would think this not becoming for a king. Now, if your friend has been offended, and he is willing to forgive, you are grateful to him, for he does perhaps his best, but God stands at his gate with his tables laden with a rich hospitality. “My oxen and my fatlings are killed, all things are ready, come to the supper.” Let no low thought of God come in to make you doubt his power to save you. Have high thoughts of God, and this snare of the fowler will be broken.
11. Again, let me remind you that the greatness of God’s mercy should encourage you to believe that it comes from God. If I could take you suddenly, blindfold you, and carry you away to a place you did not know, and then, loosing the bandage from your eyes, should say, “Look here; it is all gold on every side, thick slabs of gold, and there is a pickaxe; take it and use it,”—you begin and turn up blocks of ore,—would you have any idea at the time that this was put there by men? “No,” you say, “this is God’s mine, the infinite bounty of the Creator; not the scanty contrivance of the creature.” The abundance of the treasure proves to you that it cannot be the treasure house of man. Now, you open your eyes in this building tonight, and you see a gaslight. “Well,” you say, “it is very good—a very good light in its way, but I can see it is man’s light.” Go out and see the moon’s light: did you ever think that man made that? Or wait until tomorrow morning and look up at the sun; wait until noonday when it is shedding down its brightness and gilding the fields with tints of glory, and I think you will say, “Ah! I shall never mistake this for man’s work; it is so exceedingly bright that nothing that man can ever achieve in the way of illumination can be at all comparable to it.” Thus the greatness of the light makes you believe in the divinity that ordained it. If you should see tomorrow a heavy shower of rain, you would not believe, I suppose, that it was made with a watering pot; and if you saw the Thames swollen to its banks from a great flood, you would not believe that the London waterworks had filled it to its brim. “No,” you say, “this is God at work in nature. The greatness of the work proves that God is here.” If you were ever in Cambridge, you might have seen a little mountain which is so small that no one knows who made it. Some say it is artificial; some say it is natural. Now, I have never heard any dispute about the Alps; no one ever said that they were artificial. I never heard of any dispute about the Himalayas; no one ever conjectured that human hands piled them up to the skies and clothed them with their hoary snows. So, when I read about the mercies of God in Christ, reaching up like mountains to heaven, I am sure they must be divine. I am certain the revelation must come from God; it must be true; it is self-evident. I might enlarge this argument by showing that God’s works in creation are very great, and therefore it would be idle to think that there would be no great works in grace. Two works which have been made by the same artist always have some characteristics which enable you to see that the same artist made them. In like manner, to us there is one God; creation and redemption have only one author; the same eternal power and Godhead are legibly inscribed on both. Now when I look at the sea, and hear it roaring in its fulness, I see a great artist there. And when my soul surveys the ocean of grace, and listens to the echoes of its motion as the sound of many waters, I see the same Almighty artist. When I see a great sinner saved, then I think I see the same Master hand which first formed man, and curiously made his substance, endowing him with powers so great that they baffle our understanding; but if I only found little specimens of grace, with small gifts and stunted benedictions, I might say—“These may be by man, for man can do many things, and possibly since he has done things, little things in creation, he can do little things in grace.” But when we see astounding conversions and marvellous forgivenesses, we are sure this must be God because it is so great, and so far beyond all human comprehension.
12. Let me remind you again, that you may have another argument to put an end to your fears about the greatness of God’s mercy from the greatness of his providence. Did you ever think how much food God gives to his creatures every year? How much fine wheat he lays upon the earth that we may feed upon it! Have you remembered the vast machinery with which he feeds the billions of men who are upon the face of the globe? When Xerxes led his millions from Persia to Greece, there was a very great and cumbrous system to provide the supplies so that all the host might be fed; and even as it was, many of them were starved; but here are millions upon millions, and God feeds them. Indeed, enlarge the thought. There are the fowls of heaven that are countless—did you ever pick up a dead sparrow that had been starved to death? I never did. Think of the sharp winters, and the birds, somehow or other, without barn or granary, find their food. Look at the millions and millions of fish in the sea, swimming tonight and searching for their food, and your heavenly Father feeds all these. Look at the innumerable insects creeping upon the earth, or dancing in the summer sunbeam, all supplied. Look at behemoth who makes the deep to be hoary with roaring, look at huge leviathan, the elephant, the crocodile, and those other mighty creatures of God’s strength to go through the deep or through the forests; these he supplies in providence. And if he is so lavish here, do you think that in the masterpiece of his hand, his grace, he is stinted and constrained? God forbid! It would be hard to believe in littleness of special love when we see greatness of common goodness towards the sons of man. “Oh,” one says, “but I am thinking of my unworthiness, and that this does not meet it.” Well, this will meet it. There is a country where there had been a drought, and the land is all parched and chapped. That field of grain there belongs to a good man; that field over there belongs to an infidel; that one over there belongs to a blasphemer; that one is cultivated by a drunkard; that other one belongs to a man who lives in every known vice. Here comes a cloud! blessed be God, here comes a cloud, which sails along through the sky. Where will it go? It is full of rain; it will make the poor dried up grain revive; there will be a harvest yet; which way will it go? “Of course,” you say, “It will only go in the corner where the godly man has his field.” Indeed, not so. It spreads its rich mantle over the entire sky, and the shower of mercy falls upon the just and the unjust, upon the thankful and upon the unthankful. It falls just as plenteously where the blasphemer is the possessor as where the gracious man lifts up his heart in prayer. Now what does this show? God blesses ungodly men, unthankful men, and I hold that as grace is always in analogy with nature, God is ready tonight to bless blasphemers, graceless men, careless men, drunken men, men who do not ask for his favour, but who, nevertheless, if God wills to save them, shall certainly receive his salvation, who shall have his mercy brought into their souls and shall live. Let us turn over the point for a moment and argue again. “Soul,” you say, “I cannot believe, because the mercy is so great;” would anything except great mercy suit your case at all? Say, would little gains serve your case? Must you not say with Baxter, “Lord, give me great mercy or no mercy, for nothing short of great mercy can answer my need?” You need a great Christ; you want one who can wash away foul offences. He is just such a one as you need. Trust him; trust him; trust him now! Besides, what have you to do with asking that question at all? What God gives you to do, is it not yours to do? He tells you, “Trust my Son and I will save you through his blood.” Sinner, ask no questions; whether it is right or wrong, the responsibility will not rest with you if you will do as God bids you to do. If the Spirit of God should now constrain you to trust Christ, should you perish, then you can say, “I perished doing as God bade me.” That can never be; you will be the first who ever perished like that. May God enable you at this very moment to take him at his word, and to trust your soul in Jesus’ hands!
Using Your Fears as an Enticement to Believe
13. III. I close by USING YOUR VERY FEARS AS AN ENTICEMENT TO BELIEVE.
14. If it is so joyous only to think of these things, what must it be to possess them? If it gives such a lift to your spirit only to think of being pardoned, adopted, accepted, and saved, what must it be really to be washed? You cannot make a guess. But this I can tell you, the first moment I believed in Christ, I had more real happiness in one tick of the clock than in all the years before. Oh, to be forgiven! It is enough to make a man leap; indeed, to leap three times as John Bunyan puts it, and go on his way rejoicing. Forgiven! Why, a rack becomes a bed of down, the flames become our friends when we are forgiven. Justified! No more condemnation! Oh, the joy of that! The happiness of the slave when he lands on freedom’s shore is nothing compared with the delight of the believer when he escapes from the land of the enemy. Speak of the joy of the poor captive who has been chained to the oar by the pirates, and who at last is delivered; the breaking of his chain is not one half such melodious music to him as the breaking of our chains to us. “He took me out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and put a new song into my mouth, and established my goings.”
I will praise you every day,
Now your anger’s passed away;
Comfortable thoughts arise
From the bleeding sacrifice.
Jesus is become at length
My salvation and my strength;
And his praises shall prolong,
While I live, my pleasant song.
Do not talk of the joys of the dance, or of the flush of wine; do not speak of the mirth of the merry, or of the flashes of the ambitious and successful. There is a mirth more deep than these; a joy more intense; a bliss more enduring than anything the world can give. It is the bliss of being forgiven; the bliss of having God’s favour and God’s love in one’s soul; the bliss of feeling that God is our Father; that Christ is married to our souls; and that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and will abide with us for ever. Let the sweetness of the mercy draw you, poor soul! Let the sweetness of the mercy, I say, entice you! But you say, “May I have it?” Come and welcome, come and welcome, sinner, come! When you leave this place you will see opposite to the Elephant and Castle Streets a fountain; if you are thirsty, go and drink; there is no one there to say, “You must not come; you are not fit.” It is put there on purpose for the thirsty. And if tonight you want Christ, if you feel in your souls a desire to be partakers of his salvation, he stands there in the highway of the gospel, and he is free to every thirsty soul. No need to bring your silver cups or your golden vases; you may come with your poverty. No need, my poor friend, that you should wait until you have learned to read well or have studied the classics; you may come in your ignorance just as you are. No need, my poor erring brother, that you should wait until you should thoroughly reform; you may come and do your reformation afterwards. Come to Jesus as you are, just as you are. He will wash the filthy, clothe the naked, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, enrich the penniless, and raise to glory those who seem to be sinking down to hell. Oh! may God draw some tonight, some who have come in here out of curiosity to hear the strange preacher, who only hopes to be strange in seeking to win souls by telling them earnestly God’s simple truth! May the Master lay hold of some tonight, yes, tonight! Had I the power to plead as Paul did, could I utter impassioned words like those of the seraphic Whitfield, oh could I plead with you as a man pleads for his life, as a mother pleads for her child, so I would say to you, and beseech you that you be reconciled to God! My strength fails, the truth has been uttered. Hear it! May you receive it! “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved”—thus spoke our Lord and Master—“He who does not believe shall be damned.” Believe and make profession of your faith, for whoever with his heart believes, and with his mouth makes confession, shall be saved.
15. May the Lord bless the joy of the tidings to the rejoicing of our heart, for his dear name’s sake! Amen.