"Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money."--ISA. lii: 3.
The Jews had gone headlong into sin, and as a punishment they had been carried captive to Babylon. They found that iniquity did not pay. Cyrus seized Babylon, and felt so sorry for these poor captive Jews that, without a dollar of compensation, he let them go home. So that, literally, my text was fulfilled: "Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money."
There is enough Gospel in this text for fifty sermons; though I never heard of its being preached on. There are persons in this house who have, like the Jews of the text, sold out. You do not seem to belong either to yourselves or to God. The title-deeds have been passed over to "the world, the flesh, and the devil," but the purchaser has never paid up. "Ye have sold yourselves for nought."
When a man passes himself over to the world he expects to get some adequate compensation. He has heard the great things that the world does for a man, and he believes it. He wants two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. That will be horses, and houses, and a summer-resort, and jolly companionship. To get it he parts with his physical health by overwork. He parts with his conscience. He parts with much domestic enjoyment. He parts with opportunities for literary culture. He parts with his soul. And so he makes over his entire nature to the world. He does it in four installments. He pays down the first installment, and one fourth of his nature is gone. He pays down the second installment, and one half of his nature is gone. He pays down the third installment, and three quarters of his nature are gone; and after many years have gone by he pays down the fourth installment, and, lo! his entire nature is gone. Then he comes up to the world and says: "Good-morning. I have delivered to you the goods. I have passed over to you my body, my mind, and my soul, and I have come now to collect the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars." "Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars?" says the world. "What do you mean?" "Well," you say, "I come to collect the money you owe me, and I expect you now to fulfill your part of the contract." "But," says the world, "I have failed. I am bankrupt. I can not possibly pay that debt. I have not for a long while expected to pay it." "Well," you then say, "give me back the goods." "Oh, no," says the world, "they are all gone. I can not give them back to you." And there you stand on the confines of eternity, your spiritual character gone, staggering under the consideration that "you have sold yourself for nought."
I tell you the world is a liar; it does not keep its promises. It is a cheat, and it fleeces everything it can put its hands on. It is a bogus world. It is a six-thousand-year-old swindle. Even if it pays the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for which you contracted, it pays them in bonds that will not be worth anything in a little while. Just as a man may pay down ten thousand dollars in hard cash and get for it worthless scrip--so the world passes over to you the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in that shape which will not be worth a farthing to you a thousandth part of a second after you are dead. "Oh," you say, "it will help to bury me, anyhow." Oh, my brother! you need not worry about that. The world will bury you soon enough, from sanitary considerations. After you have been deceased for three or four days you will compel the world to bury you.
Post-mortem emoluments are of no use to you. The treasures of this world will not pass current in the future world; and if all the wealth of the Bank of England were put in the pocket of your shroud, and you in the midst of the Jordan of death were asked to pay three cents for your ferriage, you could not do it. There comes a moment in your existence beyond which all earthly values fail; and many a man has wakened up in such a time to find that he has sold out for eternity, and has nothing to show for it. I should as soon think of going to Chatham Street to buy silk pocket-handkerchiefs with no cotton in them, as to go to this world expecting to find any permanent happiness. It has deceived and deluded every man that has ever put his trust in it.
History tells us of one who resolved that he would have all his senses gratified at one and the same time, and he expended thousands of dollars on each sense. He entered a room, and there were the first musicians of the land pleasing his ear, and there were fine pictures fascinating his eye, and there were costly aromatics regaling his nostril, and there were the richest meats, and wines, and fruits, and confections pleasing the appetite, and there was a soft couch of sinful indulgence on which he reclined; and the man declared afterward that he would give ten times what he had given if he could have one week of such enjoyment, even though he lost his soul by it. Ah! that was the rub. He did lose his soul by it! Cyrus the Conqueror thought for a little while that he was making a fine thing out of this world, and yet before he came to his grave he wrote out this pitiful epitaph for his monument: "I am Cyrus. I occupied the Persian Empire. I was king over Asia. Begrudge me not this monument." But the world in after years plowed up his sepulcher.
The world clapped its hands and stamped its feet in honor of Charles Lamb; but what does he say? "I walk up and down, thinking I am happy, but feeling I am not." Call the roll, and be quick about it. Samuel Johnson, the learned! Happy? "No. I am afraid I shall some day get crazy." William Hazlitt, the great essayist! Happy? "No. I have been for two hours and a half going up and down Paternoster Row with a volcano in my breast." Smollett, the witty author! Happy? "No. I am sick of praise and blame, and I wish to God that I had such circumstances around me that I could throw my pen into oblivion." Buchanan, the world-renowned writer, exiled from his own country, appealing to Henry VIII. for protection! Happy? "No. Over mountains covered with snow, and through valleys flooded with rain, I come a fugitive." Moliere, the popular dramatic author! Happy? "No. That wretch of an actor just now recited four of my lines without the proper accent and gesture. To have the children of my brain so hung, drawn, and quartered, tortures me like a condemned spirit."
I went to see a worldling die. As I went into the hall I saw its floor was tessellated, and its wall was a picture-gallery. I found his death-chamber adorned with tapestry until it seemed as if the clouds of the setting sun had settled in the room. The man had given forty years to the world--his wit, his time, his genius, his talent, his soul. Did the world come in to stand by his death-bed, and clearing off the vials of bitter medicine, put down any compensation? Oh, no! The world does not like sick and dying people, and leaves them in the lurch. It ruined this man, and then left him. He had a magnificent funeral. All the ministers wore scarfs, and there were forty-three carriages in a row; but the departed man appreciated not the obsequies.
I want to persuade my audience that this world is a poor investment; that it does not pay ninety per cent. of satisfaction, nor eighty per cent., nor twenty per cent., nor two per cent., nor one; that it gives no solace when a dead babe lies on your lap; that it gives no peace when conscience rings its alarm; that it gives no explanation in the day of dire trouble; and at the time of your decease it takes hold of the pillow-case, and shakes out the feathers, and then jolts down in the place thereof sighs, and groans, and execrations, and then makes you put your head on it. Oh, ye who have tried this world, is it a satisfactory portion? Would you advise your friends to make the investment? No. "Ye have sold yourselves for nought." Your conscience went. Your hope went. Your Bible went. Your heaven went. Your God went. When a sheriff under a writ from the courts sells a man out, the officer generally leaves a few chairs and a bed, and a few cups and knives; but in this awful vendue in which you have been engaged the auctioneer's mallet has come down upon body, mind, and soul: Going! Gone! "Ye have sold yourselves for nought."
How could you do so? Did you think that your soul was a mere trinket which for a few pennies you could buy in a toy shop? Did you think that your soul, if once lost, might be found again if you went out with torches and lanterns? Did you think that your soul was short-lived, and that, panting, it would soon lie down for extinction? Or had you no idea what your soul was worth? Did you ever put your forefingers on its eternal pulses? Have you never felt the quiver of its peerless wing? Have you not known that, after leaving the body, the first step of your soul reaches to the stars, and the next step to the furthest outposts of God's universe, and that it will not die until the day when the everlasting Jehovah expires? Oh, my brother, what possessed you that you should part with your soul so cheap? "Ye have sold yourselves for nought."
But I have some good news to tell you. I want to engage in a litigation for the recovery of that soul of yours. I want to show that you have been cheated out of it. I want to prove, as I will, that you were crazy on that subject, and that the world, under such circumstances, has no right to take the title-deed from you; and if you will join me I shall get a decree from the High Chancery Court of Heaven reinstating you into the possession of your soul. "Oh," you say, "I am afraid of lawsuits; they are so expensive, and I can not pay the cost." Then have you forgotten the last half of my text? "Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money."
Money is good for a great many things, but it can not do anything in this matter of the soul. You can not buy your way through. Dollars and pounds sterling mean nothing at the gate of mercy. If you could buy your salvation, heaven would be a great speculation, an extension of Wall Street. Bad men would go up and buy out the place, and leave us to shift for ourselves. But as money is not a lawful tender, what is? I will answer: Blood! Whose? Are we to go through the slaughter? Oh, no; it wants richer blood than ours. It wants a king's blood. It must be poured from royal arteries. It must be a sinless torrent. But where is the king? I see a great many thrones and a great many occupants, yet none seem to be coming down to the rescue. But after awhile the clock of night in Bethlehem strikes twelve, and the silver pendulum of a star swings across the sky, and I see the King of Heaven rising up, and He descends, and steps down from star to star, and from cloud to cloud, lower and lower, until He touches the sheep-covered hills, and then on to another hill, this last skull-covered, and there, at the sharp stroke of persecution, a rill incarnadine trickles down, and we who could not be redeemed by money are redeemed by precious and imperial blood.
We have in this day professed Christians who are so rarefied and etherealized that they do not want a religion of blood. What do you want? You seem to want a religion of brains. The Bible says: "In the blood is the life." No atonement without blood. Ought not the apostle to know? What did he say? "Ye are redeemed not with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but by the precious blood of Christ." You put your lancet into the arm of our holy religion and withdraw the blood, and you leave it a mere corpse, fit only for the grave. Why did God command the priests of old to strike the knife into the kid, and the goat, and the pigeon, and the bullock, and the lamb? It was so that when the blood rushed out from these animals on the floor of the ancient tabernacle the people should be compelled to think of the coming carnage of the Son of God. No blood, no atonement.
I think that God intended to impress us with the vividness of that color. The green of the grass, the blue of the sky, would not have startled and aroused us like this deep crimson. It is as if God had said: "Now, sinner, wake up and see what the Saviour endured for you. This is not water. This is not wine. It is blood. It is the blood of my own Son. It is the blood of the Immaculate. It is the blood of God." Without the shedding of blood is no remission. There has been many a man who in courts of law has pleaded "not guilty," who nevertheless has been condemned because there was blood found on his hands, or blood found in his room; and what shall we do in the last day if it be found that we have recrucified the Lord of Glory and have never repented of it? You must believe in the blood or die. No escape. Unless you let the sacrifice of Jesus go in your stead you yourself must suffer. It is either Christ's blood or your blood.
"Oh," says some one, "the thought of blood sickens me." Good. God intended it to sicken you with your sin. Do not act as though you had nothing to do with that Calvarian massacre. You had. Your sins were the implements of torture. Those implements were not made of steel, and iron, and wood, so much as out of your sins. Guilty of this homicide, and this regicide, and this deicide, confess your guilt to-day. Ten thousand voices of heaven bring in the verdict against you of guilty, guilty. Prepare to die, or believe in that blood. Stretch yourself out for the sacrifice, or accept the Saviour's sacrifice. Do not fling away your one chance.
It seems to me as if all heaven were trying to bid in your soul. The first bid it makes is the tears of Christ at the tomb of Lazarus; but that is not a high enough price. The next bid heaven makes is the sweat of Gethsemane; but it is too cheap a price. The next bid heaven makes seems to be the whipped back of Pilate's hall; but it is not a high enough price. Can it be possible that heaven can not buy you in? Heaven tries once more. It says: "I bid this time for that man's soul the tortures of Christ's martyrdom, the blood on His temple, the blood on His cheek, the blood on His chin, the blood on His hand, the blood on His side, the blood on His knee, the blood on His foot--the blood in drops, the blood in rills, the blood in pools coagulated beneath the cross; the blood that wet the tips of the soldiers' spears, the blood that plashed warm in the faces of His enemies." Glory to God, that bid wins it! The highest price that was ever paid for anything was paid for your soul. Nothing could buy it but blood! The estranged property is bought back. Take it. "You have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money." O atoning blood, cleansing blood, life-giving blood, sanctifying blood, glorifying blood of Jesus! Why not burst into tears at the thought that for thee He shed it--for thee the hard-hearted, for thee the lost?
"No," says some one; "I will have nothing to do with it except that, like the Jews, I put both my hands into that carnage and scoop up both palms full, and throw it on my head and cry: 'His blood be on us and on our children!'" Can you do such a shocking thing as that? Just rub your handkerchief across your brow and look at it. It is the blood of the Son of God whom you have despised and driven back all these years. Oh, do not do that any longer! Come out frankly and boldly and honestly, and tell Christ you are sorry. You can not afford to so roughly treat Him upon whom everything depends.
I do not know how you will get away from this subject. You see that you are sold out, and that Christ wants to buy you back. There are three persons who come after you to-night: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. They unite their three omnipotences in one movement for your salvation. You will not take up arms against the Triune God, will you? Is there enough muscle in your arm for such a combat? By the highest throne in heaven, and by the deepest chasm in hell, I beg you look out. Unless you allow Christ to carry away your sins, they will carry you away. Unless you allow Christ to lift you up, they will drag you down. There is only one hope for you, and that is the blood. Christ, the sin-offering, bearing your transgressions. Christ, the surety, paying your debts. Christ, the divine Cyrus, loosening your Babylonish captivity.
Would you not like to be free? Here is the price of your liberation--not money, but blood. I tremble from head to foot, not because I fear your presence, for I am used to that, but because I fear that you will miss your chance for immortal rescue, and die. This is the alternative divinely put: "He that believeth on the Son shall have everlasting life; and he that believeth not on the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." In the last day, if you now reject Christ, every drop of that sacrificial blood, instead of pleading for your release as it would have pleaded if you had repented, will plead against you. It will seem to say: "They refused the ransom; they chose to die; let them die; they must die. Down with them to the weeping and the wailing. Depart! go away from me. You would not have me, now I will not have you. Sold out for eternity."
O Lord God of the judgment day! avert that calamity! Let us see the quick flash of the cimeter that slays the sin but saves the sinner. Strike, omnipotent God, for the soul's deliverance! Beat, O eternal sea! with all thy waves against the barren beach of that rocky soul, and make it tremble. Oh! the oppressiveness of the hour, the minute, the second, on which the soul's destiny quivers, and this is that hour, that minute, that second!
I wonder what proportion of this audience will be saved? What proportion will be lost? When the "Schiller" went down, out of three hundred and eighty people only forty were saved. When the "Ville du Havre" went down, out of three hundred and forty about fifty were saved. Out of this audience to-day, how many will get to the shore of heaven? It is no idle question for me to ask, for many of you I shall never see again until the day when the books are open.
Some years ago there came down a fierce storm on the sea-coast, and a vessel got in the breakers and was going to pieces. They threw up some signal of distress, and the people on the shore saw them. They put out in a life-boat. They came on, and they saw the poor sailors, almost exhausted, clinging to a raft; and so afraid were the boatmen that the men would give up before they got to them, they gave them three rounds of cheers, and cried: "Hold on, there! Hold on! We'll save you!" After awhile the boat came up. One man was saved by having the boat-hook put in the collar of his coat; and some in one way, and some in another; but they all got into the boat. "Now," says the captain, "for the shore. Pull away now, pull!" The people on the land were afraid the life-boat had gone down. They said: "How long the boat stays. Why, it must have been swamped, and they have all perished together."
And there were men and women on the pier-heads and on the beach wringing their hands; and while they waited and watched, they saw something looming up through the mist, and it turned out to be the life-boat. As soon as it came within speaking distance the people on the shore cried out: "Did you save any of them? Did you save any of them?" And as the boat swept through the boiling surf and came to the pier-head, the captain waved his hand over the exhausted sailors that lay flat on the bottom of the boat, and cried: "All saved! Thank God! All saved!" So may it be to-day. The waves of your sin run high, the storm is on you, the danger is appalling. Oh! shipwrecked soul, I have come for you. I cheer you with this Gospel hope. God grant that within the next ten minutes we may row with you into the harbor of God's mercy. And when these Christian men gather around to see the result of this service, and the glorified gathering on the pier-heads of heaven to watch and to listen, may we be able to report all saved! Young and old, good and bad! All saved! Saved from sin, and death, and hell. Saved for time. Saved for eternity. "And so it came to pass that they all escaped safe to land."