WE SHALL have two things to consider this evening--the misery of our past estate, and the great deliverance which God has wrought for us. As for:--
I. THE MISERY OF OUR PAST ESTATE, be it known unto you that, in common with the rest of mankind, believers were once without Christ. No tongue can tell the depth of wretchedness that lies in those two words. There is no poverty like it, no want like it, and for those who die so, there is no ruin like that it will bring. Without Christ! If this be the description of some of you, we need not talk to you about the fires of hell; let this be enough to startle you, that you are in such a desperate state as to be without Christ. Oh! what terrible evils lie clustering thick within these two words!
The man who is without Christ is without any of those spiritual blessings which only Christ can bestow. Christ is the life of the believer, but the man who is without Christ is dead in trespasses and sins. There he lies; let us stand and weep over his corpse. It is decent and clean, and well laid out, but life is absent, and, life being absent, there is no knowledge, no feeling, no power. What can we do? Shall we take the word of God and preach to this dead sinner? We are bidden to do so, and, therefore, we will attempt it; but so long as he is without Christ no result will follow, any more than when Elisha's servant laid the staff upon the child--there was no noise, nor sound, nor hearing. As long as that sinner is without Christ, we may give him ordinances, if we dare; we may pray for him, we may keep him under the sound of the ministry, but everything will be in vain. Till thou, O quickening Spirit, come to that sinner, he will still be dead in trespasses and sins. Till Jesus is revealed to him there can be no life.
So, too, Christ is the light of the world. Light is the gift of Christ. "In him was light, and the light was the life of men." Men sit in darkness until Jesus appears. The gloom is thick and dense; not sun, nor moon, nor star appeareth, and there can be no light to illumine the understanding, the affections, the conscience. Man has no power to get light. He may strike the damp match of reason, but it will not yield him a clear flame. The candle of superstition, with its tiny glare, will but expose the darkness in which he is wrapped. Rise, morning star! Come, Jesus, come! Thou art the sun of righteousness, and healing is beneath thy wings. Without Christ there is no light of true spiritual knowledge, no light of true spiritual enjoyment, no light in which the brightness of truth can be seen, or the warmth of fellowship proved. The soul, like the men of Napthali, sits in darkness, and seeth no light.
Without Christ there is no peace. See that poor soul hunted by the dogs of hell. It flies swift as the wind, but faster far do the hunters pursue. It seeks a covert yonder in the pleasures of the world, but the baying of the hell-hounds affright it in the festive haunts. It seeks to toil up the mountain of good works, but its legs are all too weak to bear it beyond the oppressor's rule. It doubles; it changes its tack; it goes from right to left but the hell-dogs are too swift of foot, and too strong of wind to lose their prey, and till Jesus Christ shall open his bosom for that poor hunted thing to hide itself within, it shall have no peace.
Without Christ there is no rest. The wicked are like the troubled sea, which cannot rest, and only Jesus can say to that sea, "Peace, be still."
Without Christ there is no safety. The vessel must fly before the gale, for it has no anchor on board; it may dash upon the rocks, for it has no chart and no pilot. Come what may, it is given up to the mercy of wind and waves. Safety it cannot know without Christ. But let Christ come on board that soul, and it may laugh at all the storms of earth, and e'en the whirlwinds which the Prince of the Power of the air may raise need not confound it, but without Christ there is no safety for it.
Without Christ again, there is no hope. Sitting wrecked upon this desert rock, the lone soul looks far away, but marks nothing that can give it joy. If, perchance, it fancies that a sail is in the distance, it is soon undeceived. The poor soul is thirsty, and around it flows only a sea of brine, soon to change to an ocean of fire. It looks upward, and there is an angry God--downward, and there are yawning gulfs--on the right hand, and there are accusing sounds--on the left hand, and there are tempting fiends. It is all lost! lost! lost! without Christ, utterly lost, and until Christ comes not a single beam of hope can make glad that anxious eye.
Without Christ, beloved, remember that all the religious acts of men are vanity. What are they but mere air-bags, having nothing in them whatever that God can accept? There is the semblance of worship, the altar, the victim, the wood laid in order, and the votaries bow the knee, or prostrate their bodies, but Christ alone can send the fire of heaven's acceptance. Without Christ the offering, like that of Cain's, shall lie upon the stones, but it shall never rise in fragrant smoke, accepted by the God of heaven. Without Christ your church-goings are a form of slavery, your chapel-meetings a bondage. Without Christ your prayers are but empty wind, your repentances are wasted tears, your almsgivings and your good deeds are but a coating of thin veneer to hide your base iniquities. Your professions are white-washed sepulchres, fair to look upon, but inwardly full of rottenness. Without Christ your religion is dead, corrupt, a stench, a nuisance before God--a thing of abhorrence, for where there is no Christ there is no life in any devotion, nothing in it for God to see that can possibly please him. And this, mark you, is a true description, not of some, but of all who are without Christ. You moral people without Christ, you are lost as much as the immoral. You rich and respectable people, without Christ, you will be as surely damned as the prostitute that walks the streets at midnight. Without Christ, though you should heap up your charitable donations, endow your almshouses and hospitals, yea, though you should give your bodies to be burned, no merit would be imputed to you. All these things would profit you nothing. Without Christ, e'en if you might be raised on the wings of flaming zeal, or pursue your eager course with the enthusiasm of a martyr, you shall yet prove to be but the slave of your own passion, and the victim of your own folly. Unsanctified and unblest, you must, then, be shut out of heaven, and banished from the presence of God. Without Christ, you are destitute of every benefit which he, and he alone, can bestow.
Without Christ, implies, of course, that you are without the benefit of all those gracious offices of Christ, which are so necessary to the sons of men, you have no true prophet. You may pin your faith to the sleeve of man, and be deceived. You may be orthodox in your creed, but unless you have Christ in your heart, you have no hope of glory. Without Christ truth itself will prove a terror to you. Like Balaam, your eyes may be open while your life is alienated. Without Christ that very cross which does save some will become to you as a gallows upon which your soul shall die. Without Christ you have no priest to atone or to intercede on your behalf. There is no fountain in which you can wash away your guilt; no passover blood which you can sprinkle on your lintel to turn aside the destroying angel; no smoking altar of incense for you; no smiling God sitting between the cherubim. Without Christ you are an alien from everything which the priesthood can procure for your welfare. Without Christ you have no shepherd to tend, no King to help you; you cannot call in the day of trouble upon one who is strong to deliver. The angels of God, who are the standing army of King Jesus, are your enemies and not your friends. Without Christ, Providence is working your ill, and not your good. Without Christ you have no advocate to plead your cause in heaven; you have no representative to stand up yonder and represent you, and prepare a place for you. Without Christ you are as sheep without a shepherd; without Christ you are a body without a head; without Christ you are miserable orphans without a father, and your widowed soul is without a husband. Without Christ you are without a Saviour; how will you do? what will become of you when you find out the value of salvation at the last pinch, the dreary point of despair? and without a friend in heaven, you must needs be if you are without Christ. To sum up all, you are without anything that can make life blessed, or death happy. Without Christ, though you be rich as Croesus, and famous as Alexander, and wise as Socrates, yet are you naked, and poor, and miserable, for you lack him by whom are all things, and for whom are all things, and who is himself all in all.
Surely this might be enough to arouse the conscience of the most heedless? But ah! without any of the blessings which Christ brings, and to miss all the good offices which Christ fills--this is only to linger on the side issues! The imminent peril is to be without Christ himself. Do you see, there, the Saviour in human form--God made flesh, dwelling among us? He loves his people, and came to earth to wipe out an iniquity which had stained them most vilely, and to work out a righteousness which should cover them most gloriously, but without Christ that living Saviour is nothing to you. Do you see him led away as a sheep to the slaughter, fastened to the cruel wood--bleeding, dying? Without Christ you are without the virtue of that great sacrifice; you are without the merit of that atoning blood. Do you see him lying in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, asleep in death? That sleep is a burial of all the sins of his people, but without Christ your sins are not atoned for; your transgressions are yet unburied; they walk the earth; they shall go before you to judgment; they shall clamour for your condemnation; they shall drag you down without hope. Without Christ, remember, you have no share in his resurrection. Bursting the bonds of death, you, too, shall rise, but not to newness of life, nor yet to glory, for shame and everlasting contempt shall be your portion if you be without Christ. See him as he mounts on high; he rides in his triumphal car through the streets of heaven; he scatters gifts for men, but without Christ there are none of those gifts for you. There are no blessings for those who are without Christ. He sits on that exalted throne, and pleads and reigns for ever, but without Christ you have no part in his intercession, and you shall have no share in his glory. He is coming. Hark! the trumpet rings. My ear prophetic seems to catch the strain! He comes, surrounded by majestic pomp, and all his saints shall reign with him, but without Christ you can have no part nor lot in all that splendour. He goes back to his Father, and surrenders his kingdom, and his people are for ever safe with him. Without Christ there shall be none to wipe away the tears from your eyes; no one to lead you to the fountain of living waters; no hand to give you a palm-branch; no smile to make your immortality blessed. Oh! my dear hearers, I cannot tell you what unutterable abysses of wretchedness and misery are comprised here within the fulness of the meaning of these dreadful words--without Christ.
At this present hour, if you are without Christ, you lack the very essence of good, by reason of which your choicest privileges are an empty boast, instead of a substantial boon. Without Christ all the ordinances and means of grace are nothing worth. Even this precious Book, that might be weighed with diamonds, and he that was wise would choose the Book, and leave the precious stones--even this sacred volume is of no benefit to you. You may have Bibles in your houses, as I trust you all have, but what is the Bible but a dead letter without Christ? Ah! I would you could all say what a poor woman once said. "I have Christ here," as she put her hand on the Bible, "and I have Christ here," as she put her hand on her heart, "and I have Christ there," as she raised up her eyes towards heaven; but if you have not Christ in the heart, you will not find Christ in the Book, for he is discovered there in his sweetness, and his blessedness, and his excellence, only by those who know Him and love him in their hearts. Do not get the idea that a certain quantity of Bible-reading, and particular times spent in repeating prayers, and regular attendance at a place of worship, and the systematic contribution of a guinea or so to the support of public worship and private charities will ensure the salvation of your souls. No, you must be born again. And that you cannot be; for it is not possible that you could have been born again if you are still living without Christ. To have Christ is the indispensable condition of entering heaven. If you have him, though compassed about with a thousand infirmities, you shall yet see the brightness of the eternal glory; but if you have not Christ, alas! for all your toil, and the wearisome slavery of your religion, you can but weave a righteousness of your own, which shall disappoint your hope, and incur the displeasure of God.
And without Christ, dear friends, there comes the solemn reflection that ere long ye shall perish. Of that I do not like to talk, but I would like you to think of it. Without Christ you may live, young man--though, mark, you shall miss the richest joys of life. Without Christ you may live, hale, strong man, in middle age--though, mark, without him you shall miss the greatest support amidst your troubles. Without Christ you may live, old man, and lean upon your staff, content with the earth into which you are so soon to drop, though, mark you, you shall lose the sweetest consolation which your weakness could have found. But remember, man, thou art soon to die. It matters not how strong thou art; death is stronger than thou, and he will pull thee down, even as the stag-hound drags down his victim, and then "how wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan," without Christ? How wilt thou do when the eyes begin to close, without Christ? How wilt thou do, sinner, when the death-rattle is in thy throat, without Christ? When they prop thee up with pillows, when they stand weeping round thine expiring form, when the pulse grows faint and few, when thou hast to lift the veil, and stand disembodied before the dreadful eyes of an angry God, how wilt thou do without Christ? And when the judgment-trump shall wake thee from thy slumber in the tomb, and body and soul shall stand together at that last and dread assize, in the midst of that tremendous crowd, sinner, how wilt thou do without Christ? When the reapers come forth to gather in the harvest of God, and the sickles are red with blood, and the vintage is cast into the wine-press of his wrath, and it is trodden until the blood runs forth up to the horse's girdles--how wilt thou do then, I conjure thee, without Christ? Oh! sinner, I pray thee let these words sound in thine ears till they ring into thy heart. I would like you to think of them tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Without Christ! I would like to make thee think of dying, of being judged, of being condemned, without Christ! May God in his mercy enable thee to see thy state, and fly to him who is able to save, even unto the uttermost, all them that come unto God by him. Christ is to be had for the asking. Christ is to be had for the receiving. Stretch out thy withered hand and take him; trust him, and he will be thine evermore; and thou shalt be with him where he is, in an eternity of joy. Having thus reviewed the misery of our past estate, let us endeavour, with the little time we have left, to:--
II. EXCITE THE THANKFULNESS OF GOD'S PEOPLE FOR WHAT THE LORD HAS DONE FOR THEM.
We are not without Christ now, but let me ask you, who are believers, where you would have been now without Christ? As for some of you, you might, indeed you would have been, tonight in the ale-house or gin-palace. You would have been with the boisterous crew that make merriment on the Lord's Day; you know you would, for "such were some of you." You might have been ever worse; you might have been in the harlot's house; you might have been violating the laws of man as well as the laws of God, "for even such" were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified. Where might you not have been without Christ? You might have been in hell; you might have been shut out for ever from all mercy, condemned to eternal banishment from the presence of God. I think the Indian's picture is a very fair one of where we should have been without Christ. When asked what Christ had done for him, he picked up a worm, put it on the ground, and made a ring of straw and wood round it, which he set alight. As the wood began to glow the poor worm began to twist and wriggle in agony, whereupon he stooped down, took it gently up with his finger, and said, "That is what Jesus did for me; I was surrounded, without power to help myself, by a ring of dreadful fire that must have been my ruin, but his pierced hand lifted me out of the burning." Think of that, Christians, and, as your hearts melt, come to his table, and praise him that you are not now without Christ.
Then think what his blood has done for you. Take only one thing out of a thousand. It has put away your many, many sins. You were without Christ, and your sins stood like yonder mountain, whose black and rugged cliff threaten the very skies. There fell a drop of Jesu's blood upon it, and it all vanished in a moment. The sins of all your days had gone in an instant by the application of the precious blood! Oh! bless Jehovah's name that you can now say:--
"Now freed from sin I walk at large, My Saviour's blood my full discharge, Content at his dear feet I lay, A sinner saved, and homage pay."
Bethink you, too, now that you have Christ, of the way in which he came and made you partaker of himself. Oh! how long he stood in the cold, knocking at the door of your heart. You would not have him; you despised him; you resisted him; you kicked against him; you did, as it were, spit in his face, and put him to open shame to be rid of him. Yet he would have you, and so, overcoming all your objections, and overlooking all your unworthiness, at length he rescued you and avouched you to be his own.
Consider, beloved, what might have been your case had he left you to your own free agency. You might have had his blood on your head in aggravation of your guilt. Instead of that, you have got his blood applied to your heart, in token of your pardon. You know right well what a difference that makes. Oh! that was a dreadful cry in the streets of Jerusalem, "His blood be on us and our children," and Jerusalem's streets flowing with gore witnessed how terrible a thing it is to have Christ's blood visited on his enemies. But, beloved, you have that precious blood for the cleansing of your conscience. It has sealed your acceptance, and you can, therefore, rejoice in the ransom he has paid, and the remission you have received with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
And I would not have you forget the vast expense which it cost to procure this priceless boon. Christ could not have been yours had he lived in heaven. He must come down to earth, and even then he could not be fully yours till he had bled and died. Oh! the dreadful portals through which Christ had to pass before he could find his way to you! He finds you now right easily, but before he could come to you he must himself pass through the grave! Think of that, and be astonished!
And why are you not left to be without Christ? I suppose there are some persons whose minds naturally incline towards the doctrines of free will. I can only say that mine inclines as naturally towards the doctrines of sovereign grace. I cannot understand the reason why I am saved, except upon the ground that God would have it so. I cannot, if I look ever so earnestly, discover any kind of reason in myself why I should be a partaker of divine grace. If I am not tonight without Christ, it is only because Christ Jesus would have his will with me, and that will was that I should be with him where he is, and should share his glory. I can put the crown nowhere but upon the head of him whose mighty grace has saved me from going down into the pit.
Beloved, let us mention one thing more out of the thousand things which we must leave unsaid. Remember what you have got tonight now that you have got Christ. No, no, no, do not be telling me what you have not got. You have not got a certain income, you say; you have not got a competence; you have not got wealth; you have not got friends; you have not got a comfortable house. No, but you have got your Saviour; you have got Christ, and what does that mean? "He that spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him, also, freely give us all things?" The man who has got Christ has got everything. There are all things in one in Christ Jesus, and if you once get him you are rich to all the intents of bliss. What, have Jesus Christ, and be discontented? Have Christ and murmur? Beloved, let me chide you gently, and pray you to lay aside that evil habit. If you have Christ, then you have God the Father to be your protector, and God the Spirit to be your comforter. You have present things working together for your good, and future things to unravel your happier portion; you have angels to be your servitors both on earth and in heaven. You have all the wheels of Providence revolving for your benefit; you have the stones of the field in league with you; you have your daily trials sanctified to your benefit; and you have your earthly joys hinged from their doors and hallowed with a blessing; your gains and your losses are alike profitable to you; your additions and your diminutions shall alike swell the tide of your soul's satisfaction; you have more than any other creatures can boast as their portion; you have more than all the world beside could yield to regale your pure taste, and ravish your happy spirits. And now, will you not be glad? I would have you come to this feasting-table this evening, saying within yourselves, "Since I am not without Christ, but Jesus Christ is mine, I do rejoice, yea, and I will rejoice."
And oh! dear Christian friends, if you have lost your evidences, go to Christ to find them all. Do not go striking your matches to light your candles, but go direct to the sun and get your light from his full orb. You who are doubting, desponding, and cast down, do not get foraging up the mouldy bread of yesterday, but go and get the manna which falls fresh today at the foot of the cross. Now you who have been wandering and backsliding, do not stay away from Jesus because of your unworthiness, but let your very sins impel you to come the faster to your Saviour's feet. Come, ye sinners; come, ye saints; come, ye who dare not say that ye are his people; come, you whose faith is but as a grain of mustard seed; come, you who have not any faith at all; come now to Jesus, who says, "Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely."
May God grant that some who feel that they are without Christ, because they have no enjoyment, nor any sense of communion with him, may now take hold of his name, his covenant, his promises with a lively faith, nay more, may they find him to the rapture of their souls, and he shall have all the praise. Amen.