The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 84
Let us now, in the second place, consider whom the invitation in our text concerns. Christ, here, invites only "labouring" and "heavy laden" souls to come unto Him. By labouring and heavy laden souls He means awakened souls, which, after being awakened from the sleep of sin, are full of fear, guilt, shame, anguish, and sorrow for their bad and dangerous condition. They tremble both for their sinfulness, and for the wrath of God; they weep and cry much; their hearts are full of sorrow, and their eyes often full of tears. They pray much in secret, read and meditate much on the word of God, and their thoughts are mostly of God, eternity, and their souls. The condition of such awakened souls, proves that the word of God has taken strong hold of their hearts, and this very condition is set forth in a masterly manner by that eminent man of God, John Bunyan, in his celebrated work, "The Pilgrim's Progress." We are there told how the poor Pilgrim first was awakened from the sleep of sin by reading and meditating on the word of God; how he repented, and showed "fruit of repentance" by leaving the City of Destruction for the heavenly Zion; how he was despised and persecuted of his own family, friends, and neighbours; and how he was urged by false teachers to stop in his heavenly journey. We see in that Pilgrim's conduct and experience the right beginning of the way and order of salvation; how he commenced, continued, and finished his course. When this poor Pilgrim came to Christ, he was indeed a labouring and heavy laden soul. Had the Pilgrim, like many of the modern Christians, believed in Christ without awakening and repentance, he would not for his afterlife have held out through all the struggles he met with in his way; he would then, like the wife of Lot (Gen. xix, 26), have gone only a little out on the plain. It is very clear, then, that true labour begins with struggling against sin, devil, the flesh, the world and its filthy customs. In the beginning this struggle may be mostly outside, against habitual sins, as the fallen, corrupted nature, the heart's deceitfulness is yet very little known or thought of. And there is a great danger for awakened souls to stop their progress in an outward righteousness, which unhappily many do, and they do it in this way: they break the sharp point of the moral law, by not seeing or understanding its spiritual strength and use, and by having their eyes fastened mostly upon outward rules, and by overlooking their hearts' deceitfulness. The true heart-knowledge will only be effected when the deceitful heart and the most holy Law of God turn together (Rom. vii, 7-16). There are two ways before the awakened soul: one wrong and one right. The wrong way, which many unhappily go, is the way leading to Phariseeism by establishing their own righteousness, which everyone by nature page 11 is very apt to do—strengthened by false teachers, who always are at hand. If such a self-righteous person be asked; "How do you do?" he will quickly answer: "Quite well, thank you." "You believe in Christ'!" "Yes, of course I do." "Please tell how you got your faith?" By a closer conversation it now comes out clearly that such a person neither knows himself as a miserable sinner, nor Christ as his full Saviour, but trusts mainly on his (or her) own righteousness. But the more educated and clever persons will not come straight out with their souls' inner-condition when asked for it. To mention one instance: Some unconverted priests, in a certain place, wished to silence a Christian lay-preacher, and one of them said: "Come here, and I will at last bring you to see you are wrong in preaching when not ordained. There is now with me a very learned scholar, who knows all the Bible, and he will convince yon about that." The lay-brother then, turning to that very learned priest, said: "You know all the Bible, sir?" "Yes, certainly," the priest answered. "It is well," the lay-preacher said; "now shall we get to know what the real condition of a poor sinner's heart is, when Christ reveals himself there by His grace." The learned scholar, turning back, said: "That belongs to the practical parts, which I will not enter upon." "Then it is best that you should go home and study your Bible over again," said the lay-preacher. If those deluded Pharisees are, as they imagine, and false teachers affirm, "getting on well," step by step, in their own righteousness, they will at last come as far as to the gate of heaven (Matt, xxv, 11), and then they will be cast out for ever (Gal. v, 30). The other way, which is the right one, and opposite to that of the Pharisees, is the way leading to the cross through humiliation. The awakened soul, who by God's grace is lead that way, is not allowed to rest in his own righteousness or to be satisfied with himself; he is getting through the sharp, strong, and spiritual Law, and by own sad experience, to know himself worse and worse, being, as the Bible teaches, desperately wicked, and, unlike the Pharisees, he is more concerned about the inside than the outside. Such souls may be said to be of the Evangelical way, that is to say : they are on the way to accept the Evangelical truths. They feel with deep sorrow the great unbelief, uncleanness, hardness, hypocrisy, and coldness of their own hearts. They try all the means in their power against sin, yet they are overtaken again and again. They think, when they, through prayer and sincerity, get more strength, they will overcome sin and be holy. Hard struggles between life and death, fearful battles, many tears, many a sleepless night are passed through, and at last they consider themselves and their case totally lost. The flood of sin in their hearts may sometimes appear lower and nearly dried up, and with good hopes, many a dam is built in order to stop the out-floods of sin, but unawares the great sin-flood page 12 comes again in the soul, and all the dams are either broken through, or the sin overflows them (Rom. v, 20). Then the "labouring," wretched, miserable, ruined, undone, tired, and hopeless sinner, despairing that his heart is so full of disease, is at last, with much pain, bereft of all future hope, and gives himself (or herself) up as lost (Matt, xviii, 11)—a totally lost sinner, who a thousand times has deserved hell and damnation. Now at last he casts overboard all his (or her) own righteousness, as being of no value, just as people on the sea cast out even gold and silver, when the storm becomes very dangerous. Such experience in our souls is a needful death unto life. But no one can die without great pain. Everything about a dying person, the expression of his eyes—deeply sunk, drawn face, and general appearance—all speak of great pain, and the word of God plainly shows us that we must experience a death in ourselves, before we can get life and unmixed faith in Christ (Rom. vii, 14). St. Paul says (Rom. vii, 9): "When the commandment came, sin revived, and 1 died." "I died" the Apostle says, but what kind of death did he actually die? It was not a physical, not a spiritual, neither an eternal death, although he said he died. But the Apostle tells us it was his own self, or rather, his trusting in himself that died, and the cause of that death was the Law. What Christ said of Himself must also be said of His Church : "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John xii, 24). My dear reader, permit me to ask you, in the name of God and your own salvation: Is that your experience? When were you awakened from the sleep of sin? When did you actually commence to "labour" on your own soul's salvation and become "heavy laden?" Did you succeed in establishing your own righteousness under the Law, or did the Law cause you to die ? Consider well : the Law and the Gospel are the two balances (Dan. v, 27) wherein you are to be weighed, and if you are wanting in one, you will also be wanting in the other. When did you, as a miserable and hopeless sinner, give yourself wholly up to Christ to be saved by free grace? Is Christ now (not ten years ago) precious and very sweet to your soul every moment? It is a very dangerous thing indeed to have no deep and lasting experience in the right way and order of salvation, and, my dear friend, what is then all your talk about Christ ? But perhaps you will ask : Is it needful to know our own corrupted nature by such painful experience in order to be saved? Can I not be saved without that? My answer is: Look in your Bible and see Rev. xxii, 19; no one has any right to take away anything, belonging either to the Law or the Gospel, from the word of God. All mere human testimony is of very little value here. The word of God says plainly: "The commandment came, sin revived, and I died "(Rom. vii, 9). But I will prove further, with page 13 examples from the Bible, of some of the most eminent saints that ever lived, that it is needful to know our own corrupted nature and fallen state, not only theoretically, by our intelligence, but by sad and painful experience, in order to accept salvation through Christ. For instance, who could be a more eminent saint than Aaron, the high priest? Think of his high calling and very high office; think again of his very precious and expensive robe, and his going into the most holy place to make atonement for the whole people. But who could be a greater sinner than Aaron was! Think of what he did when he allowed the people to make and worship a golden calf and dance around it (Exodus xxxii, 2). Who ought to have offered his life to prevent that great sin, if not Aaron? It was well for Aaron that he humbled himself before God, when Moses, his brother, prayed for him, and he had cause enough to feel ashamed of himself and to be in a humble spirit through all his after-life. As often as he was tempted to be high-minded and proud (which is a very dangerous snare for eminent persons), and a voice whispered to him : "There is none like you, Aaron, either so high or so holy," another voice might immediately come and say : "Be quiet, Aaron, there is not such a great sinner as you in all the world," and Aaron's own conscience would rebuke him and keep him down. Very much the same experience had Aaron's eminent sister, Miriam (Numbers xii). Again, look at the Prophet Jonah, before he could preach with effect to the Ninevites' repentance, he had to feel by his own sad experience, both his own great disobedience as well as great pain in the belly of the sea-monster. He had to cry to God from the depth of the waters (Jonah ii). Again, look at the widow of Zarephath, she appeared to have been a pious woman before the Prophet Elijah came into her house, although without a deeper knowledge of her own sins, that is to say, without saving religion, for which cause the merciful God sent his Prophet Elijah to live a considerable time in her house. The result of his staying with her was a deeper knowledge and experience of her own sins, and she confessed and said : "Elijah, what have I to do with thee, 0 thou man of God 1 art thou come unto me to call my sins to remembrance, and to slay my son?" (1 Kings xvii, 18). Who does not know the stories of David and his son Solomon, whose books not only follow each other in the Bible, but whose experience comes close up to each other? Before David was able to write the eminent book of Psalms, and Solomon that deep book called Ecclesiastes, they both had to know by a very sad and dear experience their own fallen nature. The same may be said of Samson, the eminent judge. Strong as he was in his body, he had his great weaknesses in his soul, which he had to know by sad and painful experience. He-is numbered by St. Paul (Heb. xi, 32) among the Old Testament Saints. From the New Testament also a few examples may be- page 14 mentioned : for instance the priest Zachariah, who had to know and feel with great pain his own unbelief, before he could praise God for His great mercy and goodness to him (Luke i, 64). Again, those two great sinners, the women mentioned in the iv chapter of John and the vii chapter of Luke, ought never to be forgotten. They were both very fervent, warm, and active, in their love to Christ, which they could not have been, had they not possessed a very deep feeling for their own great sin and misery, according to Christ's own words (Luke vii, 47). Lastly, look at the Apostles of Christ, who, although called to the highest office in the Church, had reason enough to be humble for all their life, as they were not only chosen from among great sinners, but they had themselves to know again, and again, by very sad experience, their own corrupted nature. Think only of them in the last evening they spent with their dear Master, before His death. Such a wonderful evening, when Christ had bestowed upon them such a great measure of blessing. The very same evening they had a quarrel about who should be not the least, but the greatest, among themselves (Luke xxii, 24). Poor Disciples! They were now tempted, even when Christ was in their midst, to be highminded and proud, but they had soon to know better their own hearts, for a short time afterwards they all forsook Christ and fled, leaving Him alone with His enemies (Mark xiv, 50). But among the Apostles, Peter had the most humbling struggle with his corrupted heart, because he was most apt to think highly of himself, being the oldest Apostle, always most ready to speak for the others, and being that Apostle who from Christ had received the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Christ allowed the devil to be very hard on poor Peter, although not to overcome him as was the case with Judas. Before Peter's great fall, he thought himself so strong, and he gave such great and boasting promises, but after the miserable experience of his own heart he thought more humbly of himself. The great Apostle, St. Paul, had also to know in a very deep and painful manner his own sinfulness (Acts xxii, 34), before he could taste the sweet grace of God. From the Church history I will, in the first place, mention the great Reformer, Martin Luther. Everyone that is acquainted with his life's history knows well that before the evangelical light arose before him, he had to fight many a fearful battle with his own bad corrupted nature. The same may be said of that great man of God, John Wesley. Who could be a greater sinner than John Bunyan ? But as his experience was deep in sin and grace, he was thereby able to urge the greatest sinner to come to Christ. Examples to that point might easily be multiplied to a vast number, both from ancient and modern times, and all these examples from the history of God's Saints, prove that repentance through deep knowledge of sin, by sad painful experience, must go before faith in Christ, and page 15 they shew in a plain manner what our text signifies by souls that "labour" and are "heavy laden."