The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 84
My dear reader, observe then in the first place, by the persons invited in our text we are not to understand the great masses or bulk of sleeping sinners, and that from the fact that they cannot be said to "labour" or to be "heavy laden" in the sense of our text. Unconverted people labour, but only mentally for their living, pleasure, riches, or honor, and even if they do anything of a religious character they only aim at reputation. For instance, in a country place, where a church was to be built, an old respectable Mrs R—told me that she alone would build this church, "because," said she, "when a hundred years are gone, the people then living will say Mrs R—built that church." At the best, unconverted people labour only to establish their own righteousness, as they think morality and outward ordinances—a religion of mere opinions, creeds, and forms—will save them. They think that to be lost they must commit some great crimes. God is merciful, they say, and they are as good as their neighbours, who also hope to be saved. They expect to live a long time, and then at last they mean to cry to God for mercy a little before they die. They mean to enter heaven as well as others. Their religion consists in these three parts: firstly, not to commit any great crime; secondly, to do a little good now and then; thirdly, to use the outward means of grace when they please. People who possess these three qualifications are regarded by the world as good Christians. Unhappily, people are generally supported in such dark heathendom by a great number of "false teachers," unconverted worldly-minded priests and preachers of all denominations and distinctions, preachers who love ease, pleasure, money, and honor, more than they love God and poor souls. There is no class of people, all things considered, who are doing so much evil in the world as unconverted and uncalled preachers. All unconverted preachers, ordained or not, are uncalled preachers. Among the many sad things this miserable world has to show to an enlightened and pious eye, there can scarcely be any more pitiful and miserable sight than to see—and it is very often seen—a godless bold priest standing before a godless crowd, crying, "Come unto Christ, come unto Christ," etc. Especially when people are going to the Lord's table, they are invited and urged strongly, both from this and page 6 similar texts, to come and trust in Christ. These honored business men are very busy in binding up people's heads and pouring sweet-oil on before they are wounded.
But perhaps such communicants may imagine themselves a little wounded and in need of some soothing words, because they might have been trying, at least some of them, for a couple of days, to abstain from Some of their outward sins. As they have been reading prayers, hymns, and a few exhortations, and have tried to force themselves to think a little about God and His Word, which they indeed have felt to be a very hard "labour," they may feel a little sad and "heavy laden," and will be very glad to get rid of that hard "labour" as soon as their communion is passed respectably over. Now these poor wretched hypocrites, when finding their hypocritical labour to be for them heavy, hear this text, speaking of those who "labour" and are "heavy laden," and as they are urgently invited to come and trust in Christ, take to themselves a false trust, joy, and peace, and drink that sweet poison with great pleasure. The word intended to be unto life will prove to be for them a word unto death. Woe! yea, ten thousand times woe unto such priests and such people! There are—help, gracious God—a great many of them.
Many try to hold up and defend such base practices and soul-murdering, and boldly ask, "Can there be any objection against inviting people to come unto Christ, and can anyone come to Christ too early?" "Did not St. Paul," they ask, "invite the gaoler in Philippi to believe at once in Christ?" (Acts xvi). Such questions may at first seem to urge the New-gospel, and when the poor deluded people hear so much about Christ, and His name so often mentioned (Matt, vii, 21), they think all must of course be safe and sure. In answer to the above questions it may by all be allowed that all false trusting in Christ is certainly too early, but true trusting in Christ never can be too early.
With regard to that often mentioned example of the gaoler in Philippi, whom St. Paul at once urged to believe in Christ, it may not be forgotten or overlooked that the same gaoler was an awakened, frightened, and humble-seeking penitent, which St. Paul had spiritual sense enough to understand, and therefore he could in that instance rightly invite the gaoler at once to believe in Christ, But permit me to ask: Did St. Paul himself always follow the same method whatever kind of people he happened to meet with ? Did he give the sorcerer, who asked for the Holy Ghost, the same answer? (Acts viii, 18). Did the Governor Felix (Acts xxiv, 24-27) get the same answer, who we are told expressly, would hear St. Paul "about the faith in Christ?"
It is a very wrong opinion to think anyone can force his own heart, either on the deathbed or on any other occasion, to trust in Christ at will. The heart, after its own nature, will go its own page 7 way, and will not or cannot be forced either to love, trust, or believe. The great masses of mankind do not want, and are not able to trust in Christ as their first need. Cursed be that trust, which unconverted people take themselves in Christ, and whereby they make Christ a minister of sin. The devil likes that method very much, being his own offspring—his own beloved gospel Since he could not withstand, or hinder Christ to die for the world, he tries to annul the effect thereof by inducing the world falsely to trust on Christ's merit when in their unconverted condition. It is the devil's real business to persuade people to live in their sins and meantime to trust in Christ. To mention one instance among many. There may be a strong-drink-seller who is going to die. He may happen to say after his minister that he "believes in Christ," but he does not mention anything of his hotels or drink-traffic—his great crimes. He does not utter sorrow for his great sins or warn others of the same, still he says he "believes in Christ." But be sure, it is altogether mockery and blasphemy which serves the devil's purpose, to blind and strengthen other sinners in their wickedness. No, the very first thing people stand in need of is to be awakened from the fearful sleep of sin, wounded, sore, sin-sick, and miserable. Christ is a Saviour only for people in such condition (Matt, ix, 12).
But in what manner shall the unconverted masses be preached to, then, if they may not first be urged to trust in Christ? Has God in His word given any standing rule how to preach to a wicked world ? Surely He has. God has commanded to begin with preaching repentance from sin (Luke xxiv, 47), not only about sin in general, which would be only to beat the air, but to classify sin after the Ten Commandments, and apply them to the hearers, like Old Bible preaching. Many preachers of the modern time seem to think that people may be converted by hearing a word now and then about repentance, and that they must repent. They may well preach a system about repentance, but as they do not show their hearers' sinfulness and dangerous state, and threaten with God's coming wrath upon them, they preach in such a manner that sinners can neither be convinced nor converted. When the Prophet Jonah (Jonah iii) came to preach to Nineveh, he did not come to preach a nice system about repentance. No, he had something higher in view, he came to preach people to repentance, which was effected thereby that he showed their great danger because of their great sins, and threatened with God's wrath coming over them. But many seem to think the world has become much better, and does not stand in need of such repentance or legal preaching method, and that Christ, after His coming in the flesh, has taken away all such from the world—offensive preaching—and ordained that only sweet and soothing words are to be preached. But Christ himself says: "Think not page 8 that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matt. v, 17). Repentance, therefore, is the doctrine that suits the world in its unconverted condition. True and saving faith must therefore be preceded by actual repentance, and be followed by good fruit to sanctification.
Some may ask: Since faith and repentance cannot effect justification, of what use then is faith and repentance? But beloved, how can you come to union with Christ without faith? If you neither desire Him, seek Him, nor accept Him, how should He, against your will, against your real desire and wish, come near unto you? But you ask then of what use is repentance? I answer, you cannot come to a living faith, and with real earnest desire, and a poor spirit, seek and accept Christ, except only through repentance. Look upon sleeping sinners, who do not know of any repentance, what desire is there in their faith ? No, the tendency of their minds, hearts, and desires, are towards the world and sin. But their hearts do not know of any drawing desire to Christ, and it can not be otherwise, for how can they in their helplesness long for a doctor, seek escape, cry for help, when they feel no sickness with sweat and pain, and do not in fear, anguish, and alarm, see any danger in their path ? They have no other than a dead faith, wherein there is no desire, which is detected by God's eyes, because He searches hearts and reins and is not blinded by an outward appearance. But the Old Adam is an enemy to such repentance and sorrow for sin. Mankind will not know anything thereof at all, they fight against it with all their power; the heart hardens itself in every way and tries to escape as long as it can.
A carnal person affirms boldly that such sorrow is against the commandment of God, who bids us be glad. See how liable and ready they are to explain and apply the Scriptures after their own corrupted minds. When they suffer worldly loss, injury, or misfortune, they give themselves quite up to sorrow. They then place no limit to their weeping and bemoaning, but when they are told to sorrow for their sins, they answer "No, God has said I shall eat my bread with joy." God has surely said so, but only to converted souls, who have already passed through needful sorrow for their sins, and have received pardon and peace; these, and these only, are they who should and could have any right joy in God. But it could never have been God's intention by such a commandment to strengthen careless sinners in a thoughtless and earthly joy, Sorrow for sin can then not be against God, as we read (2 Cor. vii, 10) it is after God's mind and will. The offer which God accepts is a broken and contrite heart (Ps. li, 17). With what reason will you maintain your objection against such sorrow for sin I Read the ii chapter of the Prophet Joel, "Turn ye ever to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and weeping, page 9 and mourning;" and in Jeremiah xxxi the Lord says: "They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them." But you say that sorrow weakens the body. It is true, David was so sorrowful for sin that he forgot to eat bread, and many, with him, have experienced the same. But if then the corrupted body perish, when the soul thereby is made fit for heaven? You are not afraid to try your body severely with hard work, if you thereby can see the least earthly gain; you are not afraid to injure your health when you live in drunkenness, fleshly lusts, and other such bad pursuits; you spare not at all your health on such occasions where there is dancing and mirth; you say: aye, a small matter, I can easily stand it, we shall not be so careful for us. In short, as soon as there is something which tastes well to the carnal mind, then you care not for your body, but when it is the sorrow which can bring you to God and save both body and soul from hell, from eternal destruction, then you are afraid to be too severe on your sinful body. You say such a sorrow weakens the mind. Yes, it draws the mind from the earth, from sinful occupations, foolish lusts, and levity, and fastens it on Jesus, heaven, salvation, and eternity. Is it foolishness to draw the whole heart from the earth, from vanity, from the world's union, and long only for that which is above ! Then was St. Paul a great fool when he denied this world and had his mind in heaven, and held all for loss and dung in order to win Christ and be found in Him. Take notice, then, that repentance through deep sorrow for sin, faith in Christ, and a holy living, is the standing order in God's appointed way to salvation. That is the way of salvation preached by the Prophets of old, John the Baptist (Matt, iii, 2), Christ Himself (Matt, ix, 17), the Apostle Peter (Acts ii, 38), and Paul (Acts xvii, 30), and all the other Apostles. The great Reformers, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley, etc., preached the same Gospel, and all true ministers and preachers, called of God, will not dare to alter or take away anything from God's holy word (Rev. xxii, 19), but preach it faithfully and with diligence (Acts xx, 20-21). True preachers, sent by God, never offered Christ to a wicked world without repentance. As a crack in a wheel can be found out by a light touch with the hammer, so always false preaching is detected, when faith is placed before repentance. Such preachers (and they are many—help, gracious God), are wolves, thieves, and robbers (John x, 1), who mean to steal the Christian name, privileges, and honor of God. Such unscriptural preaching cannot make true living Christians, but only wax images, which may look nice, but have no life or motion in them.