'Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light'--Paul.
Wodrow has an anecdote in his delightful Analecta which shall introduce us into our subject to-night. Mr. John Menzies was a very pious and devoted pastor; he was a learned man also, and well seen in the Popish and in the Arminian controversies. And to the end of his life he was much esteemed of the people of Aberdeen as a foremost preacher of the gospel. And yet, 'Oh to have one more Sabbath in my pulpit!' he cried out on his death-bed. 'What would you then do?' asked some one who sat at his bedside. 'I would preach to my people on the tremendous difficulty of salvation!' exclaimed the dying man.
1. Now, the first difficulty that stands in the way of our salvation is the stupendous mass of guilt that has accumulated upon all of us. Our guilt is so great that we dare not think of it. It is too horrible to believe that we shall ever be called to account for one in a thousand of it. It crushes our minds with a perfect stupor of horror, when for a moment we try to imagine a day of judgment when we shall be judged for all the deeds that we have done in the body. Heart-beat after heart-beat, breath after breath, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, and all full of sin; all nothing but sin from our mother's womb to our grave. Sometimes one outstanding act of sin has quite overwhelmed us. But before long that awful sin fell out of sight and out of mind. Other sins of the same kind succeeded it. Our sense of sin, our sense of guilt was soon extinguished by a life of sin, till, at the present moment the accumulated and tremendous load of our sin and guilt is no more felt by us than we feel the tremendous load of the atmosphere. But, all the time, does not our great guilt lie sealed down upon us? Because we are too seared and too stupefied to feel it, is it therefore not there? Because we never think of it, does that prove that both God and man have forgiven and forgotten it? Shall the Judge of all the earth do right in the matter of all men's guilt but ours? Does the apostle's warning not hold in our case?--his awful warning that we shall all stand before the judgment-seat? And is it only a strong figure of speech that the books shall be opened till we shall cry to the mountains to fall on us and to the rocks to cover us? Oh no! the truth is, the half has not been told us of the speechless stupefaction that shall fall on us when the trumpet shall sound and when Alp upon Alp of aggravated guilt shall rise up high as heaven between us and our salvation. Difficulty is not the name for guilt like ours. Impossibility is the better name we should always know it by.
2. Another difficulty or impossibility to our salvation rises out of the awful corruption and pollution of our hearts. But is there any use entering on that subject? Is there one man in a hundred who even knows the rudiments of the language I must now speak in? Is there one man in a hundred in whose mind any idea arises, and in whose heart any emotion or passion is kindled, as I proceed to speak of corruption of nature and pollution of heart? I do not suppose it. I do not presume upon it. I do not believe it. That most miserable man who is let down of God's Holy Spirit into the pit of corruption that is in his own heart,--to him his corruption, added to his guilt, causes a sadness that nothing in this world can really relieve; it causes a deep and an increasing melancholy, such as the ninety and nine who need no repentance and feel no pollution know nothing of. All living men flee from the corruption of an unburied corpse. The living at once set about to bury their dead. 'I am a stranger and a sojourner among you,' said Abraham to the children of Heth; 'give me a possession of a burying-place among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.' But Paul could find no grave in the whole world in which to bury out of his sight the body of death to which he was chained fast; that body of sin and death which always makes the holiest of men the most wretched of men,--till the loathing and the disgust and the misery that filled the apostle's heart are to be understood by but one in a thousand even of the people of God.
3. And then, as if to make our salvation a very hyperbole of impossibility, the all but almighty power of indwelling sin comes in. Have you ever tried to break loose from the old fetter of an evil habit? Have you ever said on a New Year's Day with Thomas A Kempis that this year you would root that appetite,--naming it,--out of your body, and that vice,--naming it,--out of your heart? Have you ever sworn at the Communion table that you would watch and pray, and set a watch on your evil heart against that envy, and that revenge, and that ill-will, and that distaste, dislike, and antipathy? Then your minister will not need to come back from his death-bed to preach to you on the difficulty of salvation.
4. And yet such is the grace of God, such is the work of Christ, and such is the power and the patience of the Holy Ghost that, if we had only an adequate ministry in our pulpits, and an assisting literature in our homes, even this three-fold impossibility would be overcome and we would be saved. But if the ministry that is set over us is an ignorant, indolent, incompetent, self-deceived ministry; if our own chosen, set-up, and maintained minister is himself an uninstructed, unspiritual, unsanctified man; and if the books we buy and borrow and read are all secular, unspiritual, superficial, ephemeral, silly, stupid, impertinent books, then the impossibility of our salvation is absolute, and we are as good as in hell already with all our guilt and all our corruption for ever on our heads. Now, that was the exact case of Mansoul in the allegory of the Holy War at one of the last and acutest stages of that war. Or, rather, that would have been her exact case had Diabolus got his own deep, diabolical way with her. For what did her ancient enemy do but sound a parley till he had played his last card in these glozing and deceitful words;--'I myself,' he had the face to say to Emmanuel, 'if Thou wilt raise Thy siege and leave the town to me, I will, at my own proper cost and charge, set up and maintain a sufficient ministry, besides lecturers, in Mansoul, who shall show to Mansoul that transgression stands in the way of life; the ministers I shall set up shall also press the necessity of reformation according to Thy holy law.' And even now, with the two pulpits, God's and the devil's, and the two preachers, and the two pastors, in our own city,--how many of you see any difference, or think that the one is any worse or any better than the other? Or, indeed, that the ministry of the last card is not the better of the two to your interest and to your taste, to the state of your mind and to the need of your heart? Let us proceed, then, to look at Mansoul's two pulpits and her two lectureships as they stand portrayed on the devil's last card and in Emmanuel's crowning commission; that is, if our eyes are sharp enough to see any difference.
5. The first thing, then, on the devil's last card was this, 'A sufficient ministry, besides lecturers, in Mansoul.' Now, a sufficient ministry has never been seen in the true Church of Christ since her ministry began. And yet she has had great ministers in her time. After Christ Himself, Paul was the greatest and the best minister the Church of Christ has ever had. But such was the transcendent greatness of his office, such were its tremendous responsibilities, such were its magnificent opportunities and its incessant demands, such were its ceaseless calls to consecration, to cross-bearing, to crucifixion, to more and more inwardness of holiness, and to higher and higher heights of heavenly-mindedness, that the apostle was fain to cry out continually, Who is sufficient for these things! But so well did Paul learn that gospel which he preached to others that amid all his insufficiency he was able to hear his Master saying to him every day, My grace is sufficient for thee, and, My strength is made perfect in thy weakness! And to come down to the truly Pauline succession of ministers in our own lands and in our own churches, what preachers and what pastors Christ gave to Kidderminster, and to Bedford, and to Down and Connor, and to Sodor and Man, and to Anwoth, and to Ettrick, and to New England, and to St. Andrews, and places too many to mention. With all its infirmity and all its inefficiency, what a truly heavenly power the pulpit is when it is filled by a man of God who gives his whole mind and heart, his whole time and thought to it, and to the pastorate that lies around it. His mind may be small, and his heart may be full of corruption; his time may be full of manifold interruptions, and his best study may yield but a poor result; but if Heaven ever helps those who honestly help themselves, then that is certainly the case in the Christian ministry. Let the choicest of our children, then, be sought out and consecrated to that service; let our most gifted and most gracious-minded sons be sent to where they shall be best prepared for the pulpit and the pastorate,--till by the blessing of her Head all the congregations and all the parishes, all the pulpits and all the lectureships in the Church, shall be one garden of the Lord. And then we shall escape that last curse of a ministry such as John Bunyan saw all around him in the England of his day, and which, had he been alive in the England and Scotland of our day, he would have painted again in colours we have neither the boldness nor the skill to mix nor to put on the canvas. But let all ministers put it every day to themselves to what descent and succession they belong. Let those even who believe that they have within themselves the best seal and evidence attainable here that they have been ordained of Emmanuel, let them all the more look well every day and every Sabbath day how much of another master's doctrine and discipline, motives, and manners still mixes up with their best ministry. And the surest seal that, with all our insufficiency, we are still the ministers of Christ will be set on us by this, that the harder we work and the more in secret we pray, the more and ever the more shall we discover and confess our shameful insufficiency, and the more shall we, till the day of our death, every day still begin our ministry of labour and of prayer anew. Let us do that, for the devil, with all his boldness and all his subtilty, never threw a card first or last like that.
6. After offering a sufficient ministry to Mansoul, and that, too, at his own proper cost and charge, Diabolus undertook also to see that the absolute necessity of a reformation should be preached and pressed from the pulpit he set up. Now, reformation is all good and necessary, in its own time and place and order, but God sent His Son not to be a Reformer but to be a Redeemer. John came to preach reformation, but Jesus came to preach regeneration. Except a man be born again, Jesus persistently preached to Nicodemus. 'Did it begin with regeneration?' was Dr. Duncan's reply when a sermon on sanctification was praised in his hearing. And like so much else that the learned and profound Dr. John Duncan said on theology and philosophy, that question went at once to the root of the matter. For sanctification, that is to say, salvation, is no mere reformation of morals or refinement of manners. It is a maxim in sound morals that the morality of the man must precede the morality of his actions. And much more is it the evangelical law of Jesus Christ. Make the tree good, our Lawgiver aphoristically said. Reformation and sanctification differ, says Dr. Hodge, as clean clothes differ from a clean heart. Now, Diabolus was all for clean clothes when he saw that Mansoul was slipping out of his hands. He would have all the drunkards to become moderate drinkers, if not total abstainers; and all the sensualists to become, if need be, ascetics; and all those who had sowed out their wild oats to settle down as heads of houses, and members, if not ministers and elders, in his set-up church. But we are too well taught, surely; we have gone too long to another church than that which Diabolus ever sets up, to be satisfied with his superficial doctrine and his skin-deep discipline. We know, do we not, that we may do all that his last card asks us to do, and yet be as far, ay, and far farther from salvation than the heathen are who never heard the name. A hundred Scriptures tell us that; and our hearts know too much of their own plague and corruption ever now to be satisfied short of a full regeneration and a complete sanctification. 'Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly. And I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.' The last card has many Scriptures cunningly copied upon it; but not these. Its pulpit orators handle many Scripture texts, but never these.
7. Yes, the devil comes in even here with that so late, so subtle, and so contradicting card of his. Where is it in this world that he does not come in with some of his cards? And he comes in here as a very angel of evangelical light. He puts on the gown of Geneva here, and he ascends Emmanuel's own maintained pulpit here, and from that pulpit he preaches, and where he so preaches he preaches nothing else but the very highest articles of the Reformed faith. Carnal-security was strong on assurance, no other man in Mansoul was so strong; and the devil will let us preachers be as strong and as often on election, and justification, and indefectible grace, and the perseverance of the saints as we and our people like, if we but keep in season and out of season on these transcendent subjects and keep off morals and manners, walk and conversation, conduct and character. In Hooker's and Travers' day, Thomas Fuller tells us, the Temple pulpit preached pure Canterbury in the morning and pure Geneva in the afternoon. And you will get the highest Calvinism off the last card in one pulpit, and the strictest and most urgent morality off the same card in another; but never, if the devil can help it, never both in one and the same pulpit; never both in one and the same sermon; and never both in one and the same minister. You have all heard of the difficulty the voyager had in steering between Scylla and Charybdis in the Latin adage. Well, the true preacher's difficulty is just like that. Indeed, it is beyond the wit of man, and it takes all the wit of God, aright to unite the doctrine of our utter inability with the companion doctrine of our strict responsibility; free grace with a full reward; the cross of Christ once for all, with the saint's continual crucifixion; the Saviour's blood with the sinner's; and atonement with attainment; in short, salvation without works with no salvation without works. Deft steersman as the devil is, he never yet took his ship clear through those Charybdic passages.
One thing there is that I must have preached continually in all my pulpits and expounded and illustrated and enforced in all my lectureships, said Emmanuel, and that is, my new example and my new law of motive. My own motives always made me in all I said and did to be well-pleasing in My Father's eyes, and at any cost I must have preachers and lecturers set up in Mansoul who shall assist Me in making Mansoul as well-pleasing in My Father's sight as I was Myself.
'For I am ware it is the seed of act God holds appraising in His hollow palm, Not act grown great thence as the world believes, Leafage and branchage vulgar eyes admire.'
Motives! gnashed Diabolus. And he tore his last card into a thousand shreds and cast the shreds under his feet in his rage and exasperation. Motives! New motives! Truly Thou art the threatened Seed of the woman! Truly Thou art the threatened Son of God!--Let all our preachers, then, preach much on motive to their people. The commonplace crowd of their people will not all like that preaching any more than Diabolus did; but their best people will all afterwards rise up in their salvation and bless them for it. On reformation also, let them every Sabbath preach, but only on the reformation that rises out of a reformed motive, and that again out of a reformed heart. And if a reformed motive, a reformed heart, and a reformed life are found both by preacher and hearer to be impossible; if all that only brings out the hopelessness of their salvation by reason of the guilt and the pollution and power of sin; then all that will only be to them that same ever deeper entering of the law into their hearts which led Paul to an ever deeper faith and trust in Jesus Christ. With a guilt, and a pollution, and a slavery to sin like ours, salvation from sin would be absolutely impossible. Absolutely impossible, that is, but for our Saviour, Jesus Christ. But with His atoning blood and His Holy Spirit all things are possible--even our salvation.
Let us choose, then, a minister like Mr. John Menzies. Let us read the great books that make salvation difficult. Let us work out our own salvation, day and night, with fear and trembling, and when Wisdom is justified in her children, we shall be found justified among them. We shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH