The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 84
The Old Gospel
The Old Gospel.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.—Matthew xi, 28.
Our time, being the last days, (Tim. iii, 1-6), is an exceedingly dangerous one, not only because the world in general is full of all kinds of wickedness, but more because there is so much false Christianity and because so many false teachers exist in the world. The name of Christ is often mentioned (Matt, vii, 21); Christ has many professors but few followers. Many a false foundation is laid with a great deal of expense and labour, whereon multitudes of souls will make eternal shipwreck. Many attempts are made to break asunder what God has joined together. Many take away the Law from the Gospel, whereby they make both powerless, because none can truly embrace the Gospel who does not feel his sins, and St. Paul tells us that none can feel his sins without the Law, for "by the Law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. iii, 20). Many take away repentance from faith, and talk of faith as their own work, and not as being the gift of God (Eph. ii, 8). That kind of faith, which they imagine they can acquire at will, is also their own work, that is to say, their faith is only taken, not received. These New-gospel-preachers, who in great numbers are abroad with their productions, present us with small books and tracts, which they call the Gospel—the pure Gospel—but it is not "the Gospel of God" (Rom. i, 1), which St. Paul and the other Apostles preached. To find that seducement out is not a hard task. No, only observe the following fact: Such books and tracts, although the name of Christ may be in almost every line, are all very monotonous, that is to say, when you have read one page you have in fact read all. There is only the page 4 same idea from the beginning to the end; the words only are found different. The poor deluded people, when they hear the name of Christ so often mentioned, think it is a most pure and bright Gospel. But let every thinking and impartial person take that monotonous New-gospel and place it beside the true Gospel, beginning with the first book in the New Testament, the Gospel according to St. Matthew. It is granted that no book of mere human authorship can be equal to the inspired books, but all books, tracts, and sermons, which claim the name of Gospel, must be much like the model of the true Gospel. Now everyone, with his eyes open, can easily see that the true Gospel, as found in the New Testament, is in no way monotonous. On the contrary, there appears a great variety, a great multitude of ideas and doctrines in all the Gospels and Epistles, all of which are good and needful, and which the inspired Apostles found good to teach. No part can be taken away without damaging the other.
When the great Reformer, Martin Luther, on one occasion was away from Wittemberg, there appeared prophets there in such a mysterious and zealous spirit, that Luther's friends, even that learned and pious Melancthon, did not know what to think, and therefore wrote to Luther in order to obtain his opinion about those new prophets. Luther wrote back that "they should try the spirits of the prophets if they had experienced in their own souls fear, sorrow, pain, with terrible death agonies, or if they only spoke about sweetness without feeling sin and struggles, and if that last only was with them, they were not to be believed, because the Divine Majesty has no intimate intercourse with the Old Adam."
If the New-gospel-preachers of our days could be placed in such circumstances as St. Paul, when he was brought before the Governor Felix (Acts xxiv, 24-27) who, we are told, wished to hear him about "the faith in Christ," surely they would take such fair opportunity to "preach Christ," as they call it, and they would no doubt say something to this effect: "Most excellent Felix, Christ has died for you—you have nothing to do—Christ has done it all, only believe now in Christ. Think not, most excellent Felix, that thou shaft be any better before thou comest to Christ," etc. Such smooth talk would, without doubt, have pleased that proud Governor very much, and he would very likely have released St. Paul from prison. He would have thought to himself, "Paul has said 1 must not try to be any better, and still he says all is well with me, and that I have nothing to do," etc. But St Paul was not so clever or smooth as the New-gospel-preachers of our days. He did not speak a single word to Felix about "the faith in Christ," for which he was not prepared, but instead, we find St. Paul spoke to that careless proud sinner just the words fitted for him, namely, about "righteousness, temperance, page 5 and the judgment to come," The Governor was terrified and without doubt very angry, and sent Paul back to his prison. Such clear and strong examples from the Holy Scriptures show us plainly how to deal with unconverted persons, and that not all are fit for hearing about "the faith in Christ." By God's grace we shall see that more clearly when we consider our text, where Christ's call to awakened sinners is set forth.
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.
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."
But the awakened and "heavy laden" souls may "labour" on for life and then at last perish, as many unhappily do, because he has still no life in him, although God has bestowed so much mercy upon him, and he is brought so far on the right way to salvation. But that the "labouring" soul shall not perish in his great struggle, Christ is there with his gracious call, and says': "Come unto me,.... I will give you rest." Weary soul, thou that art quite ruined and lost in thine own experience, and have many a time judged thyself to be hopeless, undone, and lost for ever, hearken now diligently, here is a sweet and heavenly message for thee—just for thee—come unto Christ and thou, even thou, dear soul, shall test the sweet "rest" and eternal life which is in Christ. Say not, dear soul, "I am too bad, I have tried so often, and my heart is so full of disease, bad lusts, unbelief, hardness, coldness, blasphemy, and all kinds of evil, that I cannot think Christ can mean me when he says: "Come unto me." Thank God, dear soul, that you feel yourself so bad, you see then your need of Christ is very great. I assure you in the name of God, if you were ten thousand times worse, it would not hinder you, Christ would still receive you. He is still able and willing to save you, in fact, dear soul, He has saved you, when He died for your many sins on the cross, and made atonement for one and all. Believe now in the finished work of Christ on Calvary, and you shall most surely have "rest." You ask : "How shall I come unto Christ, as no one can come unto Him, except the Father draw him" (John vi, 44). The Holy Spirit does not draw souls unto Christ by a silent tongue, but he begins to explain and apply the Holy Scripture, and thereby create light in the dark soul, as he did in the creation of the world. The Holy Spirit enlightens the mind and the heart of the praying penitent sinner, who then begins gradually to see the atonement. Passages of the Holy Scripture, which he may have read and heard before a thousand times without light and experience, are now opened up as great treasures to him, just as when Joseph opened up all his corn-houses in the time of famine (Gen. xli, 56). The blessed Gospel, like the sun, sends thousands and ten thousands of warm light-beams into his (or her) cold heart, which is warmed and enlightened by the sun of righteousness (Mal. iv, 2). To know Christ, not merely as a student or a theologian, but as a poor and lost sinner, and to get light in the plan of the atonement is the highest gift, next to Christ Himself, that God can bestow upon any human being. When God creates that heavenly light in the "labouring" soul, it is filled with page 16 unspeakable joy after that long, dark, and stormy night. There is a great similitude between the morning light in nature and the enlightening daylight in a soul, as in both instances it comes gradually and increases into high daylight. One of the first things God created in the world was light, "And God saw the light that it was good" (Gen. i, 4). The new creation in a soul begins with light (2 Cor. iv, 6). Now the enlightened soul receives Christ freely and gladly. He eats and drinks joyfully at God's rich Gospel-table, and satisfies his "hunger and thirst" (Matt, v, 6). The Gospel of Christ is now a quite new Gospel, not in itself, hut in his (or her) esteem and experience. The enlightened soul never tasted the sweetness of the Gospel as he does now. He feels that it is just a suitable remedy for him. He now looks upon the Gospel, not as a sailor looking upon the lifeboat on shore, but as one being in the greatest danger out on the deep ocean. A stranger may well ask : "For what purpose is this long line folded up and lying here in this bedroom?" When he hears it is kept there up in the height in case of tire breaking out, he says: "Aye, I understand, I understand now." Just so it is with all unconverted people, when they are told God's purpose with the Gospel, they are ready to say carelessly: "Yes, yes, we understand, we understand," etc., but they do not feel any great need of it for themselves, as they see no danger, at least none near them, It is quite another thing when a person is awakened with great alarm at midnight, when the house is in flames. He will then require something more than simply to "understand." He will not stay waiting and asking many questions about the line—if it is long and strong enough, etc.; no, he will at once jump up from sleep, take firm hold of the line and at once apply it to himself. So the outworn and enlightened soul feels, I say once more, that the Gospel is just for his cure and health A beggar may go up to the hospital asking to see the doctor. He may perhaps be allowed to see him through a narrow window. But if that same beggar is taken up in a bruised and bleeding condition in the street and brought up to the hospital, the doors will at once be opened, he will at once be taken in, and the whole hospital, with doctors and medicines, are all devoted to his speedy relief.
Now, at last, the "labouring" and enlightened soul, who could not find rest in the world, in the Law, or in his own righteousness, finds "rest"—sweet and lasting "rest"—in Jesus. But who can tell what that "rest" in Jesus means? A tired workman ending his hard day's work, a sailor coming from the stormy sea into the calm harbour, a soldier coming from the battlefield into his own family-circle, and a dying person getting a few minutes' interval in his great agony, all those may know a little of the meaning of "rest." But never has any sick person felt so much pain from bodily disease, as the sin-sick soul feels for his corrupted nature. The pain in the soul far outweighs the pain in the body, as the "rest" in Jesus also far outweighs all bodily and earthly rest and pleasure. All God's children agree that they can feel, but not fully explain that great change, when Christ gave them pardon, peace, a good conscience, a new heart, and the Holy Spirit, which always bears witness with their spirit that they are God's children (Rom. viii, 16). Christ not only saves his people from the guilt and fear of sin, but he also saves them from the power, dominion, and impurity of sin in their hearts (Matt, i, 21; v, 8). "There is," says Wesley, "no Gospel without salvation from sin." By faith in Christ true believers not only shall be saved when they die, but they are saved (Eph. ii, 8), and as such they share already a portion of the same joy and happiness, which glorified saints feel in heaven, as being God's children and heirs and the joint heirs with Christ (Rom. viii, 17). Truly, that life and communion with Christ may be called a "rest," a sweet calming "rest," after such great struggles, which they have passed through. The Gospel's powerful effect in the soul is one of the strongest evidences of Christianity. If a Jew, sceptic, freethinker, or infidel be asked: How can you allow yourself a moment's doubt that Christ is the true God, when he actually works such a wonderful change in his believers' souls? How can it be that while we knew not Christ, sin, against our will, had dominion over us (as all true believers confess), but as soon as we did know Christ we got dominion over sin? Surely, none of Christ's enemies have yet been able to answer those questions, except they may say: "Thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad, we do not believe a jot of what you tell us" (Acts xxvi, 24). True Christians' confession is always a subject which unconverted people more or less hate, scorn, and blaspheme. But it does not matter, when we truly know Christ as our Saviour, we need no testimonies of unbelievers, as we feel "rest"—blessed continual "rest" and ease in our souls—having no doubt, not for a single moment, about the sufficiency of Christ's merits and grace and our own adoption. It is therefore no wonder God's children always feel "rest," feel so page 18 unspeakably happy and thankful to our most merciful God for His free grace, which He, in His bountiful mercy, has bestowed upon them, and from the bottom of their hearts exclaim : "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter i, 3). But the gracious God and our Father, who hath called and justified us, is also able to sanctify and glorify us "(Rom. vii, 30). If then God be for us, who can be against us ? All things therefore shall work together to our salvation. As many of us, who have found the grace of God through Christ, will praise Him, while living here below, and then, after a happy death, praise Him through all eternity. Amen.