CHAPTER XI. INSENSIBILITY
You say that you do not feel yourself to be a sinner;
that you are not anxious enough; that you are not penitent enough.
Be it so. Let me, however, ask you such questions
as the following: -
1. Does your want of feeling alter the gospel? Does
it make the good news less free, less blessed, less suitable? Is it not glad tidings
of God's love to the unworthy, the unlovable, the insensible? Your not feeling
your burdens does not affect the nature of the gospel, nor change the gracious
character of Him from whom it comes. It suits you as you are, and you suit it
exactly. It comes up to you on the spot, and says, Here is a whole Christ for
you, - a Christ containing everything you need. Your acquisition of feeling would
not qualify you for it, nor bring it nearer, nor buy its blessings, nor make you
more welcome, nor persuade God to do anything for you that he is not at this moment
most willing to do.
2. Is your want of feeling and excuse for your unbelief?
Faith does not spring out of feeling, but feeling out of faith. The less you feel
the more you should trust. You cannot feel aright till you have believed. As all
true repentance has its root in faith, so all true feeling has the same. It is
vain for you to attempt to reverse God's order of things.
3. Is your want of feeling a reason for your staying
away from Christ? A sense of want should lead you to Christ, and not keep you
away. "More are drawn to Christ," says old Thomas Shepherd, "under a sense of
a dead, blind heart, than by all sorrows, humiliations, and terrors." The less
of feeling or conviction that you have, you are the more needy; and is that a
reason for keeping aloof from him? Instead of being less fit for coming, you are
more fit. The blindness of Bartimeus was his reason for coming to Christ, not
for staying away. If you have more blindness and deadness than others, you have
so many more reasons for coming, so many fewer for standing afar off. If the whole
head is sick and the whole heart faint, you should feel yourself the more shut
up to the necessity of coming, - and that immediately. Whatever others may do
who have convictions, you who have none dare not stay away, nor even wait an hour.
You must come!
4. Will your want of feeling make you less welcome
to Christ? How is this? What makes you think so? Has he said so, or did he act,
when on earth, as if this were his rule of procedure/ Had the woman of Sychar
any feeling when he spoke to her so lovingly? Was it the amount of conviction
in Zaccheus that made the Lord address him so graciously, "Make haste, for today
I must abide at thy house?" The balm of Gilead will not be the less suitable for
you, nor the physician there the less affectionate and cordial, because, in addition
to other diseases, you are afflicted with the benumbing palsy. Your greater need
only gives him an opportunity of showing the extent of his fullness, as well as
the riches of his grace. Come to him, then, just because you do not feel. "Him
that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Whatever you may feel, or may not
feel, it is still a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ
Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Do not limit the grace of God, nor
suspect the love of Christ. Confidence in that grace and love will do everything
for you; want of confidence, nothing. Christ wants you to come; not to wait, nor
to stay away.
5. Will your remaining away from Christ remove your
want of feeling? No. It will only make it worse; for it is a disease which he
only can remove. So that a double necessity is laid upon you for going to Him.
Others who feel more than you may linger. You cannot afford to do so. You must
go immediately to Him who is exalted "a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance
to Israel, and the forgiveness of sins." Seeing that distance and distrust will
do nothing for you, try what drawing near and confidence will do. To you, though
the chief of sinners, the message is, "Let us draw near." God commands you to
come, without any further delay or preparation; to bring with you your sins, your
unbelief, your insensibility, your heart, your will, your whole man, and to put
them into Christ's hands. God demands your immediate confidence and instant surrender
to Christ. "Kiss the Son," is his message. His word insists on your return, -
"Return unto the Lord thy God." It shows you that the real cause of the continuance
of this distance is your unwillingness to let Christ save you in his own way,
- and a desire to have the credit of removing your insensibility by your own prayers
6. Is not your insensibility one of your worst sins?
A hard-hearted child is one of the most hateful of beings. You may pity and excuse
many things, but not hard-heartedness. "Thou art the man." Thou art the hard-hearted
child! Cease then to pity yourself, and learn only to condemn. Give this sin no
quarter. Treat it not as a misfortune, but as unmingled guiltiness. You may call
it a disease; but remember that it is an inexcusable sin. It is one great all
pervading sin added to your innumerable others. This should shut you up to Christ.
As an incurable leper you must go to him for cure. As a desperate criminal, you
must go to him for pardon. Do not, I beseech you, add to this awful sin, the yet
more damning sin of refusing to acknowledge Christ as the healer of all diseases,
and the forgiver of all iniquities.
Repentance is only to be got from Christ. Why then
should you make the want of it a reason for staying away from him? Go to Him for
it. He is exalted to give it. If you speak of waiting, you only show that you
are not sincere in your desire to have it. No man in such circumstances would
think of waiting. Your conviction of sin is to come, not by waiting, but by looking;
looking to Him whom your sins have crucified, and whom, by your distrust and unbelief,
you are crucifying afresh. It is written, "They shall look on me whom they have
pierced, and they shall mourn?"
Beware of fancying that convictions are to save
you, or that they are to be desired for their own sakes. Thus writes an old minister,
"I was put out of conceit with legal terrors; for I thought they were good, and
only esteemed them happy that were under them; they came, but I found they did
me ill; and unless the Lord had guided me thus, I think I should have died doting
after them." And another says, "Sense of a dead, hard heart is an effectual means
to draw to Christ; yea, more effectual than any other can be, because it is the
poor, the blind, the naked, the miserable, that are invited."
As to what is called a "law-work," preparatory to
faith in Christ, let us consult the Acts of the Apostles. There we have the preaching
of the apostolic gospel and the fruits of it, in the conversion of thousands.
We have several inspired sermons, addressed both to Jew and Gentile; but into
none of these is the law introduced. That which pricked the hearts of the thousands
at Pentecost was a simple narrative of the life, death, burial, and resurrection
of Jesus of Nazareth, concluding with these awful words, which must have sounded
like the trumpet of doom to those who heard them, "Therefore let all the house
of Israel know, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both
Lord and Christ." These were words more terrible than law; more overwhelming than
Sinai heard. Awful as it would have been to be told, "Ye have broken the whole
law of God;" what was this to being told, "Ye have crucified his Son?" The sin
of crucifying the Lord of glory was greater than that of breaking a thousand laws.
And yet in that very deed of consummate wickedness was contained the gospel of
the grace of God. That which pronounced the sinner's condemnation, declared also
his deliverance. There was life in that death; and the nails which fastened the
Son of God to the cross, let out the pent up stream of divine love upon the murderers
The gospel was the apostolic hammer for breaking
hard hearts in pieces; for producing repentance unto life. It was a believed gospel
that melted the obduracy of the self-righteous Jew; and nothing but the good news
of God's free love, condemning the sin yet pardoning the sinner, will, in our
own day, melt the heart and soften human rock-work into men." "Law and terrors
do but harden;" and their power, though wielded by an Elijah, is feeble in comparison
with that of a preached cross. "O blessed cross of Christ," as Luther, using an
old hymn, used to say, "there is no wood like thine!"
The word repentance signifies in the Greek, "change
of mind;" and this change the Holy Spirit produces in connection with the gospel,
not the law. "Repent and believe the gospel: does not mean get repentance by the
law, and then believe the gospel; but let this good news about the kingdom which
I am preaching, lead you to change your views and receive the gospel. Repentance
being put before faith here, simply implies, that there must be a turning from
what is false in order to the reception of what is true. If I would turn my face
to the north, I must turn it from the south; yet I should not think of calling
the one of these preparatory to the other. They must, in the nature of things,
go together. Repentance, then, is not, in any sense, a preliminary qualification
for faith, - least of all in the sense of sorrow for sin. "It must be reckoned
a settled point," says Calvin, "that repentance not only immediately follows upon
faith, but springs out of it...They who think that repentance goes before faith,
instead of flowing from or being produced by it, as fruit from a tree, have never
understood its nature. And Dr. Colquahoun remarks, "Justifying and saving faith
is the mean of true repentance; and this repentance is not the mean but the end
of that faith."
That terror of conscience may go before faith, I
do not doubt. But such terror is very unlike Bible repentance; and its tendency
is to draw men away from, not to, the cross. Alarms, such as these, are not uncommon
among unbelieving men, such as Ahab and Judas. They will be heard with awful distinctness
in hell; but they are not repentance. Sorrow for sin comes from apprehension of
the mercy of God in Christ, from the sight of the cross and of the love which
the cross reveals. The broken and the contrite heart is the result of our believing
the glad tidings of God's free love, in the death and resurrection of his Son.
Few things are more dangerous to the anxious soul than the endeavors to get convictions,
and terrors, and humiliations, as preliminaries to believing the gospel. They
who would tell a sinner that the reason of his not finding peace is that he is
not anxious enough, nor convicted enough, nor humble enough, are enemies to the
cross of Christ. They who would inculcate a course of prayer, and humiliation,
and self-examination, and dealing with the law, in order to believing in Christ,
are teaching what is the very essence of Popery; not the less poisonous and perilous,
because refined from Romish grossness, and administered under the name of gospel.
Christ asks no preparation of any kind whatsoever,
- legal or evangelical, outward, or inward, - in the coming sinner. And he that
will not come as he is shall never be received at all. It is not exercised souls,
nor penitent believers, nor well humbled seekers, nor earnest users of the means,
nor any of the better class of Adam's sons and daughters, but "sinner", that Christ
welcomes. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. This man
Spurious repentance, the produce and expression
of unbelief and self-righteousness, may be found previous to faith - just as all
manner of evils abound in the soul before it believes. But when faith comes, it
comes not as the result of this self-wrought repentance, - but in spite of it;
and this so called repentance will be afterwards regarded by the believing soul
as one of those self-righteous efforts, whose only tendency was to keep the sinner
from the Saviour. They who call on penitent sinners to believe, mistake both repentance
and faith; and that which they teach is no glad tidings to the sinner. To the
better class of sinners (if such there be), who have by laborious efforts got
themselves sufficiently humbled, it may be glad tidings; but not to those who
are without strength, the lost, the ungodly, the hard-hearted, the insensible,
the lame, the blind, the halt, the maimed. "It is not sound doctrine," says Dr.
Colquhoun, "to teach that Christ will receive none but the true penitent, or that
none else is warranted to come by faith to him for salvation. The evil of that
doctrine is that it sets needy sinners on spinning repentance, as it were, out
of their own bowels, and on bringing it with them to Christ, instead of coming
to him by faith to receive it from him. If none be invited but the true penitent,
then impenitent sinners are not bound to come to Christ; and cannot be blamed
for not coming."