HOW shall a man be just with God? How shall
the sinner be made righteous? It is only through Christ that we can be brought into
harmony with God, with holiness; but how are we to come to Christ? Many are asking the
same question as did the multitude on the Day of Pentecost, when, convicted of sin, they
cried out, "What shall we do?" The first word of Peter's answer was,
"Repent." Acts 2:37, 38. At another time, shortly after, he said, "Repent,
. . . and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out." Acts 3:19.
Repentance includes sorrow
for sin and a turning away from it. We shall not renounce sin unless we see its
sinfulness; until we turn away from it in heart, there will be no real change in the life.
There are many who fail to
understand the true nature of repentance. Multitudes sorrow that they have sinned and even
make an outward reformation because they fear that their wrongdoing will bring suffering
upon themselves. But this is not repentance in the Bible sense. They lament the suffering
rather than the sin. Such was the grief of Esau when he saw that the birthright was lost
to him forever. Balaam, terrified by the angel standing in his pathway with drawn sword,
acknowledged his guilt lest he should lose his life; but there was no genuine repentance
for sin, no conversion of purpose, no abhorrence of evil. Judas Iscariot, after betraying
Lord, exclaimed, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood."
The confession was forced
from his guilty soul by an awful sense of condemnation and a fearful looking for of
judgment. The consequences that were to result to him filled him with terror, but there
was no deep, heartbreaking grief in his soul, that he had betrayed the spotless Son of God
and denied the Holy One of Israel. Pharaoh, when suffering under the judgments of God,
acknowledged his sin in order to escape further punishment, but returned to his defiance
of Heaven as soon as the plagues were stayed. These all lamented the results of sin, but
did not sorrow for the sin itself.
But when the heart yields to
the influence of the Spirit of God, the conscience will be quickened, and the sinner will
discern something of the depth and sacredness of God's holy law, the foundation of His
government in heaven and on earth. The "Light, which lighteth every man that cometh
into the world," illumines the secret chambers of the soul, and the hidden things of
darkness are made manifest. John 1:9. Conviction takes hold upon the mind and heart. The
sinner has a sense of the righteousness of Jehovah and feels the terror of appearing, in
his own guilt and uncleanness, before the Searcher of hearts. He sees the love of God, the
beauty of holiness, the joy of purity; he longs to be cleansed and to be restored to
communion with Heaven.
The prayer of David after his
fall, illustrates the nature of true sorrow for sin. His repentance was sincere and deep.
There was no effort to palliate
his guilt; no desire to escape the judgment threatened,
inspired his prayer. David saw the enormity of his transgression; he saw the defilement of
his soul; he loathed his sin. It was not for pardon only that he prayed, but for purity of
heart. He longed for the joy of holiness--to be restored to harmony and communion with
God. This was the language of his soul:
"Blessed is he whose
transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord
imputeth not iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no guile." Psalm 32:1, 2.
"Have mercy upon me, O
God, according to Thy loving-kindness: According unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies
blot out my transgressions. . . . For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever
before me. . . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be
whiter than snow. . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within
me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto
me the joy of Thy salvation; And uphold me with Thy free spirit. . . . Deliver me from
bloodguiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation: And my tongue shall sing aloud of Thy
righteousness." Psalm 51:1-14.
A repentance such as this, is
beyond the reach of our own power to accomplish; it is obtained only from Christ, who
ascended up on high and has given gifts unto men.
Just here is a point on which
many may err, and hence they fail of receiving the help that Christ desires to give them.
They think that they cannot come to Christ unless they first repent, and that repentance
prepares for the forgiveness of their sins. It is true that repentance does precede the
forgiveness of sins; for it is only the broken and contrite heart that will feel the need
of a Saviour. But must the sinner wait till he has repented before he can come to Jesus?
Is repentance to be made an obstacle between the sinner and the Saviour?
The Bible does not teach that
the sinner must repent before he can heed the invitation of Christ, "Come unto Me,
all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28. It
is the virtue that goes forth from Christ, that leads to genuine repentance. Peter made
the matter clear in his statement to the Israelites when he said, "Him hath God
exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to
Israel, and forgiveness of sins." Acts 5:31. We can no more repent without the Spirit
of Christ to awaken the conscience than we can be pardoned without Christ.
Christ is the source of every
right impulse. He is the only one that can implant in the heart enmity against sin. Every
desire for truth and purity, every conviction of our own sinfulness, is an evidence that
His Spirit is moving upon our hearts.
Jesus has said, "I, if I
be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." John 12:32. Christ must be
revealed to the sinner as the Saviour dying for the sins of the world; and as we behold
the Lamb of
God upon the cross of Calvary, the mystery of redemption begins to unfold to
our minds and the goodness of God leads us to repentance. In dying for sinners, Christ
manifested a love that is incomprehensible; and as the sinner beholds this love, it
softens the heart, impresses the mind, and inspires contrition in the soul.
It is true that men sometimes
become ashamed of their sinful ways, and give up some of their evil habits, before they
are conscious that they are being drawn to Christ. But whenever they make an effort to
reform, from a sincere desire to do right, it is the power of Christ that is drawing them.
An influence of which they are unconscious works upon the soul, and the conscience is
quickened, and the outward life is amended. And as Christ draws them to look upon His
cross, to behold Him whom their sins have pierced, the commandment comes home to the
conscience. The wickedness of their life, the deep-seated sin of the soul, is revealed to
them. They begin to comprehend something of the righteousness of Christ, and exclaim,
"What is sin, that it should require such a sacrifice for the redemption of its
victim? Was all this love, all this suffering, all this humiliation, demanded, that we
might not perish, but have everlasting life?"
The sinner may resist this
love, may refuse to be drawn to Christ; but if he does not resist he will be drawn to
Jesus; a knowledge of the plan of salvation will lead him to the foot of the cross in
repentance for his sins, which have caused the sufferings of God's dear Son.
The same divine mind that is
working upon the things of nature is speaking to the hearts of men and creating an
inexpressible craving for something they have not. The things of the world cannot satisfy
their longing. The Spirit of God is pleading with them to seek for those things that alone
can give peace and rest--the grace of Christ, the joy of holiness. Through influences seen
and unseen, our Saviour is constantly at work to attract the minds of men from the
unsatisfying pleasures of sin to the infinite blessings that may be theirs in Him. To all
these souls, who are vainly seeking to drink from the broken cisterns of this world, the
divine message is addressed, "Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let
him take the water of life freely." Revelation 22:17.
You who in heart long for
something better than this world can give, recognize this longing as the voice of God to
your soul. Ask Him to give you repentance, to reveal Christ to you in His infinite love,
in His perfect purity. In the Saviour's life the principles of God's law--love to God and
man--were perfectly exemplified. Benevolence, unselfish love, was the life of His soul. It
is as we behold Him, as the light from our Saviour falls upon us, that we see the
sinfulness of our own hearts.
We may have flattered
ourselves, as did Nicodemus, that our life has been upright, that our moral character is
correct, and think that we need not humble the heart before God, like the common sinner:
but when the light from Christ shines into our souls, we shall see how impure we are; we
shall discern the selfishness of motive, the enmity against God, that
has defiled every
act of life. Then we shall know that our own righteousness is indeed as filthy rags, and
that the blood of Christ alone can cleanse us from the defilement of sin, and renew our
hearts in His own likeness.
One ray of the glory of God,
one gleam of the purity of Christ, penetrating the soul, makes every spot of defilement
painfully distinct, and lays bare the deformity and defects of the human character. It
makes apparent the unhallowed desires, the infidelity of the heart, the impurity of the
lips. The sinner's acts of disloyalty in making void the law of God, are exposed to his
sight, and his spirit is stricken and afflicted under the searching influence of the
Spirit of God. He loathes himself as he views the pure, spotless character of Christ.
When the prophet Daniel
beheld the glory surrounding the heavenly messenger that was sent unto him, he was
overwhelmed with a sense of his own weakness and imperfection. Describing the effect of
the wonderful scene, he says, "There remained no strength in me: for my comeliness
was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength." Daniel 10:8. The soul
thus touched will hate its selfishness, abhor its self-love, and will seek, through
Christ's righteousness, for the purity of heart that is in harmony with the law of God and
the character of Christ.
Paul says that as
"touching the righteousness which is in the law"--as far as outward acts were
concerned --he was "blameless" (Philippians 3:6); but when the spiritual
character of the law was discerned, he saw himself a sinner. Judged by the letter of the
men apply it to the outward life, he had abstained from sin; but when he looked
into the depths of its holy precepts, and saw himself as God saw him, he bowed in
humiliation and confessed his guilt. He says, "I was alive without the law once: but
when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." Romans 7:9. When he saw the
spiritual nature of the law, sin appeared in its true hideousness, and his self-esteem was
God does not regard all sins
as of equal magnitude; there are degrees of guilt in His estimation, as well as in that of
man; but however trifling this or that wrong act may seem in the eyes of men, no sin is
small in the sight of God. Man's judgment is partial, imperfect; but God estimates all
things as they really are. The drunkard is despised and is told that his sin will exclude
him from heaven; while pride, selfishness, and covetousness too often go unrebuked. But
these are sins that are especially offensive to God; for they are contrary to the
benevolence of His character, to that unselfish love which is the very atmosphere of the
unfallen universe. He who falls into some of the grosser sins may feel a sense of his
shame and poverty and his need of the grace of Christ; but pride feels no need, and so it
closes the heart against Christ and the infinite blessings He came to give.
The poor publican who prayed,
"God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13), regarded himself as a very wicked
man, and others looked upon him in the same light; but he felt his need, and with his
guilt and shame he came before God, asking for His mercy. His heart was open for
the Spirit of God to do its gracious work and set him free from the power of sin. The
Pharisee's boastful, self-righteous prayer showed that his heart was closed against the
influence of the Holy Spirit. Because of his distance from God, he had no sense of his own
defilement, in contrast with the perfection of the divine holiness. He felt no need, and
he received nothing.
If you see your sinfulness,
do not wait to make yourself better. How many there are who think they are not good enough
to come to Christ. Do you expect to become better through your own efforts? "Can the
Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are
accustomed to do evil." Jeremiah 13:23. There is help for us only in God. We must not
wait for stronger persuasions, for better opportunities, or for holier tempers. We can do
nothing of ourselves. We must come to Christ just as we are.
But let none deceive
themselves with the thought that God, in His great love and mercy, will yet save even the
rejecters of His grace. The exceeding sinfulness of sin can be estimated only in the light
of the cross. When men urge that God is too good to cast off the sinner, let them look to
Calvary. It was because there was no other way in which man could be saved, because
without this sacrifice it was impossible for the human race to escape from the defiling
power of sin, and be restored to communion with holy beings,--impossible for them again to
of spiritual life,--it was because of this that Christ took upon Himself
the guilt of the disobedient and suffered in the sinner's stead. The love and suffering
and death of the Son of God all testify to the terrible enormity of sin and declare that
there is no escape from its power, no hope of the higher life, but through the submission
of the soul to Christ.
The impenitent sometimes
excuse themselves by saying of professed Christians, "I am as good as they are. They
are no more self-denying, sober, or circumspect in their conduct than I am. They love
pleasure and self-indulgence as well as I do." Thus they make the faults of others an
excuse for their own neglect of duty. But the sins and defects of others do not excuse
anyone, for the Lord has not given us an erring human pattern. The spotless Son of God has
been given as our example, and those who complain of the wrong course of professed
Christians are the ones who should show better lives and nobler examples. If they have so
high a conception of what a Christian should be, is not their own sin so much the greater?
They know what is right, and yet refuse to do it.
Beware of procrastination. Do
not put off the work of forsaking your sins and seeking purity of heart through Jesus.
Here is where thousands upon thousands have erred to their eternal loss. I will not here
dwell upon the shortness and uncertainty of life; but there is a terrible danger--a danger
not sufficiently understood--in delaying to yield to the pleading voice of God's Holy
Spirit, in choosing to live in sin; for such this delay really is. Sin, however
may be esteemed, can be indulged in only at the peril of infinite loss. What we do not
overcome, will overcome us and work out our destruction.
Adam and Eve persuaded
themselves that in so small a matter as eating of the forbidden fruit there could not
result such terrible consequences as God had declared. But this small matter was the
transgression of God's immutable and holy law, and it separated man from God and opened
the floodgates of death and untold woe upon our world. Age after age there has gone up
from our earth a continual cry of mourning, and the whole creation groaneth and travaileth
together in pain as a consequence of man's disobedience. Heaven itself has felt the
effects of his rebellion against God. Calvary stands as a memorial of the amazing
sacrifice required to atone for the transgression of the divine law. Let us not regard sin
as a trivial thing.
Every act of transgression,
every neglect or rejection of the grace of Christ, is reacting upon yourself; it is
hardening the heart, depraving the will, benumbing the understanding, and not only making
you less inclined to yield, but less capable of yielding, to the tender pleading of God's
Many are quieting a troubled
conscience with the thought that they can change a course of evil when they choose; that
they can trifle with the invitations of mercy, and yet be again and again impressed. They
think that after doing despite to the Spirit of grace, after casting their influence on
the side of Satan, in a moment of terrible extremity they can change their course. But
this is not so easily done. The experience,
the education, of a lifetime, has so
thoroughly molded the character that few then desire to receive the image of Jesus.
Even one wrong trait of
character, one sinful desire, persistently cherished, will eventually neutralize all the
power of the gospel. Every sinful indulgence strengthens the soul's aversion to God. The
man who manifests an infidel hardihood, or a stolid indifference to divine truth, is but
reaping the harvest of that which he has himself sown. In all the Bible there is not a
more fearful warning against trifling with evil than the words of the wise man that the
sinner "shall be holden with the cords of his sins." Proverbs 5:22.
Christ is ready to set us
free from sin, but He does not force the will; and if by persistent transgression the will
itself is wholly bent on evil, and we do not desire to be set free, if we will not accept
His grace, what more can He do? We have destroyed ourselves by our determined rejection of
His love. "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of
salvation." "Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts." 2
Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 3:7, 8.
"Man looketh on the
outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart"--the human heart, with its
conflicting emotions of joy and sorrow; the wandering, wayward heart, which is the abode
of so much impurity and deceit. 1 Samuel 16:7. He knows its motives, its very intents and
purposes. Go to Him with your soul all stained as it is. Like the psalmist, throw its
chambers open to the all-seeing eye, exclaiming, "Search me, O God, and know my
heart: try me, and know
my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me
in the way everlasting." Psalm 139: 23, 24.
Many accept an intellectual
religion, a form of godliness, when the heart is not cleansed. Let it be your prayer,
"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." Psalm
51:10. Deal truly with your own soul. Be as earnest, as persistent, as you would be if
your mortal life were at stake. This is a matter to be settled between God and your own
soul, settled for eternity. A supposed hope, and nothing more, will prove your ruin.
Study God's word prayerfully.
That word presents before you, in the law of God and the life of Christ, the great
principles of holiness, without which "no man shall see the Lord." Hebrews
12:14. It convinces of sin; it plainly reveals the way of salvation. Give heed to it as
the voice of God speaking to your soul.
As you see the enormity of
sin, as you see yourself as you really are, do not give up to despair. It was sinners that
Christ came to save. We have not to reconcile God to us, but--O wondrous love!--God in
Christ is "reconciling the world unto Himself." 2 Corinthians 5:19. He is wooing
by His tender love the hearts of His erring children. No earthly parent could be as
patient with the faults and mistakes of his children, as is God with those He seeks to
save. No one could plead more tenderly with the transgressor. No human lips ever poured
out more tender entreaties to the wanderer than does He. All His promises, His warnings,
are but the breathing of unutterable love.
When Satan comes to tell you
that you are a
great sinner, look up to your Redeemer and talk of His merits. That which
will help you is to look to His light. Acknowledge your sin, but tell the enemy that
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" and that you may be saved by
His matchless love. 1 Timothy 1:15. Jesus asked Simon a question in regard to two debtors.
One owed his lord a small sum, and the other owed him a very large sum; but he forgave
them both, and Christ asked Simon which debtor would love his lord most. Simon answered,
"He to whom he forgave most." Luke 7:43. We have been great sinners, but Christ
died that we might be forgiven. The merits of His sacrifice are sufficient to present to
the Father in our behalf. Those to whom He has forgiven most will love Him most, and will
stand nearest to His throne to praise Him for His great love and infinite sacrifice. It is
when we most fully comprehend the love of God that we best realize the sinfulness of sin.
When we see the length of the chain that was let down for us, when we understand something
of the infinite sacrifice that Christ has made in our behalf, the heart is melted with
tenderness and contrition.