By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
Text: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." -- Ezek. 18:4.
It becomes the duty of the faithful ambassador of Christ, to speak, not only of the glories of heaven, but of the horrors of hell; not only of the felicities of the redeemed, but of the torments of the damned. I am to speak to you tonight on the different symptoms of soul death, or how a soul dies.
It may be proper to notice the analogy between physical and spiritual death. The fact is, the soul, or "inner man," has at least five senses, as has the body. For instance, we read, "O taste and see that the Lord is good." Here we have soul-taste and soul-sight. Again: "Incline your ear, hear and your soul shall live." Here we have soul hearing.
We do not die physically, as a rule, until we have first paved the way; through exposure, overwork or intemperance, disease is given a foothold and place to begin its deadly work. There is death all around us; we take in millions of disease germs every day, but if our bodies are perfectly healthy we are immune and able to kill or throw off these bacteria, so that they find no place to begin operation. The poet Heber says:
"Death rides on every passing breeze,
And lurks in every flower;
Each season has its own disease,
Its peril every hour!"
Scientists tell us that a coin has millions of poisonous germs. They tell us that one fly is capable of carrying seven million of these deadly creatures. Why is it then that we do not die off like rats, with the bubonic plague? Simply because we manage to keep up enough vitality to resist and overcome these infinitesimal foes. But finally, we weaken, succumb and die.
Here is a strong, healthy man, who has never had a sick day in his life. He cannot sympathize with those who are ill. But because of exposure or disregard to the laws of health, he begins to fail. The first symptom may be indigestion; then dizziness; then night sweats; then he is unable to stay at his place of business all day; then we see him reclining in the hammock on the front porch; then he is in bed part of the day; then he can sit up only long enough to have his bed made; then he cannot be up at all; then he cannot feed himself; then he has sinking spells; and lastly, his loved ones gather around his bed to see him gasp his last breath. Now it may have taken weeks or months for all this to have transpired, but finally the once healthy man expires.
In like manner we now desire to notice the process of soul death. I will mention five stages.
I. Death to high and holy purposes,
II. Death to the checks of the Spirit.
III. Death to the voice of conscience.
IV. Death to good influences.
V. Eternal death of the soul.
I. Death to high and holy purposes. In order to follow the analogy, let us begin with a healthy soul. This will take in those in the amen corner, including preachers and Christian workers. When these who have been in the forefront of the battle for years and sacrificed much-when these begin to let down and slacken their pace, soul paralysis sets in. With additional cares, or perhaps feebleness of age, one may not be able to be so active in the work of the Lord as in other days, but he need never lose the intense zeal and burden for souls. If he cannot go as formerly, he can make up for it in some other way as in writing or holy intercession. It is so easy to feel that because one has been more or less successful, he can be placed on the honorary list and still draw full pay. It is so easy for one to conclude that since he has been so intensely zealous and self-sacrificing, he can afford to let up a little, and still be in advance of the generality of professed Christians. O brother, that was a sad moment when you came to this decision; when you obtained the consent of your mind to become an ordinary, second-grade saint. That was a sad turning point in your experience, when you were content to compare yourself with those around you; when you became satisfied with present attainments. This was your first step downward, and unless you can catch your equilibrium, you will end in disgrace and despair. The history of many a man, who has fallen from a high pinnacle, can be written in two words, arrested development. He ceased to get new revelations from the skies; he ceased to have long seasons of communion with God. He ceased to be scrupulously conscientious in money matters, keeping promises and other "little things."
This was his first step toward hell. The arch deceiver watched for years to see the aggressive saint come to a stand still. From this moment be became less fiery, less self-sacrificing and more self-indulgent. Now he is prepared to come down from that high plane upon which he formerly walked. Those holy ambitions and aspirations to be an "extraordinary saint," as
Whitefield prayed to be, no longer thrill his entire being.
II. Death to the checks of the Spirit. This is the second symptom of a dying soul. Up to this time the soul has been quick to heed the slightest check of the Holy Spirit. But now as he begins to question the importance of "non-essentials," he fails to discern the genre whispers and warnings of the Spirit. As the sensibilities become blunted and benumbed the soul fails to distinguish the voice of the Spirit from other voices. The clamorings of the flesh now become more tyrannical and demand attention. Little by little the sick soul weakens and loses its power of resistance. Oh, that such a one could once more arise, shake off the chloroform of hell and be master of himself and his surroundings! Thank God, occasionally, such is the case.
There are but few people who do not grieve the Holy Spirit more or less. Have you ever noticed while in conversation or when about to make a hurried decision, how true the Spirit was to check you? There was a time when you were quick to listen. There was a time when the Spirit got ahead of every one else and was first to call your attention to some unwise or inconsiderate thing; but now you can reason away former convictions and practice things which at one time would have shocked you. Friend, put on the brakes, for you are nearing the third mile post toward hell.
III. Death to the voice of conscience. After the soul is so far paralyzed as to be insensible to the gentle checks of the Spirit, yet the thunderings of conscience may still be heard. Though the conscience may be smothered and stabbed until it is heard no more, yet there are times when it will revive, stand erect and come at one, compelling him to throw up both hands and tell the whole truth. Here is an instance of a stultified conscience: A few years ago, in Louisville, Kentucky, there lived an old, hardened sinner. His will had never been broken "when a child, and of course he became more incorrigible as he grew older. He fired boilers in a large factory and was so mean that no one would work with him. One cold day in November, a man who was on his way to Florida, stopped and asked for work. He was given the job of helping to fire boilers. After several days' work he and the old stoker had a quarrel and the stoker knocked him down with a poker. As he did not quickly arise, the old man examined him and found to his horror that the man was dead and his brains were oozing out upon the hearth. "What shall I do?" said he. "He is nothing but a tramp and will not be missed. I will crowd him into the furnace and that will be the end of him." He did so! But conscience revived and got upon its feet and went after him. Every time he opened that furnace door, two awful eyes of fire were staring at him. Every time he threw in coal, he saw two balls of fire. Finally he could stand it no longer and asked for a furlough of a week, to go to Washington, D. C. But the dark thing followed him and he went on to New York, then up into Canada, then west to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and down into Mexico. He was absent four long years, until he thought he had about forgotten it.
Then he decided to go back home to old Kentucky. One day his former proprietor was surprised to see him walk into the office. "Well, well, old fellow, where have you been? We thought you were to be gone one week, and here it is about four years."
"Yes, I didn't treat you exactly right, but I never had seen much of the world and I got a-going and couldn't stop. Perhaps I can atone for it by asking for my job back."
"Sure, we have never been able to get any one to stick to it like you. Report for duty tomorrow night." He did so, and determined as he walked into the boiler room, that "old thing shall not get hold of me again."
With one glance of the eye he noticed that everything looked familiar, and especially that one furnace. In order to brace himself up, he fired all the others first, but, sure enough, when he came to the dreaded one, there those awful eyes of fire were looking at him again. He slammed the door, only to have the thing repeated every time he opened it.
Finally, one day, as he was sleeping in his bunk, his helper heard him mutter, "I killed him with the poker and threw him into the furnace." The man ran upstairs and called the proprietor who, when he came, heard the same: "I killed him with the poker and threw him into the furnace." "That explains," declared the proprietor, "why the murdered man never called for his wages." The old stoker made believe that the fellow was only a tramp and had gone on his way toward Florida. But tramps, as well as other men, usually want all that is coming to them.
An officer was called, who gently awakened the sleeper, saying, "You are my prisoner." "What for, I pray you?"
"For killing a man with a poker and throwing him into the furnace."
"Oh!" he shrieked, "have you found me at last! Take me!! Take me!! Hang me, or throw me into the furnace, for I have been in hell four long years!"
Yes, sinner friend, it is hard to get away from conscience, and yet some do. Instead of you glorying in the thought that you perpetrated some dark crime in the past without being found out, you should feel fearfully alarmed. For, remember, the longer and more successfully you cover it up, the more it will pile up and gather "wrath against the day of wrath." It is to your interest to confess it, throw yourself upon the mercy of God and find refuge in the Rock of Ages. You can do so if you will.
IV. Death to good influences. God has done and is still doing all in His power to head us off and turn our feet from the path of hell. One of the saddest things that can be said of man is that he has the ability to so harden himself that he becomes dead to all that is good. Nothing appeals to him except that which is sensual and devilish. All that a good God can ordain and set in motion for his salvation is to no avail. He is wide awake to money making or pleasure seeking, but there is absolutely no response to the holy Sabbath, the prayer meeting, or the Bible. Yea, he can go farther and oppose family prayers, mock the people of God, and slander the servants of the Most High. It is an awful fact that there are men walking all around us, loved ones near us, perhaps sitting at our tables, who are as dead to God and as hopelessly lost as a demon who has been in hell thousands of years. What are these souls doing? For what are they living? For what are they waiting? Simply living to help damn others and waiting to be eternally damned themselves. Not because God wills it, but because they will to be damned and God cannot help it. God and every human agency have to stand back and let the doomed soul rush madly on, closing his eyes to the light, his ears to the truth, and splashing his way through the blood of Calvary's Victim in order to make sure of hell.
V. Death of the soul. Oh, what a difficult task a soul has, to be damned. The pleadings of mother, the prayers of the saints, and the pangs of a dying Redeemer, all have to be met, spurned, and brushed aside, in order to make a bed in hell. Surely,
"Men dig deep,
And run themselves out of breath,
To overtake death."
Some have worked hard, early and late for many years, to successfully choke the voice of conscience, smother their convictions and resist the influences of the Holy Spirit. They have worked hard, and would not God be in their debt if He did not give them their hard earned wages? "The wages of sin is death" -- they can be earned. "But the gift of God is eternal life" it is a free gift, without money and without price. Will you have it? It is yours for the asking. Decide now.
Oh, the eternal joys or sorrows, the everlasting bliss or banishment, that hinges upon a simple choice! Which will it be? Be careful! Three worlds are anxiously looking on and you cannot afford to make the wrong decision! Choose now for Christ, and you will never be sorry.! Heaven help you to act the way you will wish you had when the things of this earth are fading out of sight and eternity is becoming awfully real!
While God invites, how blest the day!
How sweet the Gospel's charming sound!
Come, sinner, haste, O haste away,
While yet a pardoning God is found.
Soon borne on time's most rapid wing
Shall death command you to the grave,
Before his bar your spirit bring,
And none be found to hear or save.
In that lone land of deep despair.
No Sabbath's heavenly light shall rise,
No God regard your bitter prayer,
No Savior call you to the skies.
Now God invites: how blest the day!
How sweet the gospel's charming sound!
Come, sinner, haste, O haste away,
While yet a pardoning God is found.