"Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11)
This is a wonderful old book we preachers take our texts from. In the book of Genesis we read of the creation of the world and the origin of man. God devotes one book to tell me of my origin, and the thousand chapters that follow tell me where I am going. We spend an hour here today on the pathway to the grave. This text belongs legitimately to the conclusion of the sermon, which is the answer to a question I want to ask you. I want first to ask the question, and I want us to spend twenty or thirty minutes trying to answer that question, and then we will let God answer this question; for we ought to be willing that God should answer all questions that pertain to life and salvation.
The question which I now propound plainly stated is this: "Why will you continue in sin?" Now, as simple as every word of that text is, may be we can spend a minute or two profitably in consideration of these words, "Why will you continue in sin?" I don't ask why you happen to be already a sinner. That involves three logical questions, which we have not the ability to discuss. I don't ask why you have come out to this service a sinner. That will involve exculpatory statements on your part, which I have not the time nor disposition to hear. But the question plainly stated is not, "Should you remain in sin?" or, "How you are a sinner?" but, "Why will you leave here an impenitent sinner?" And we narrow the question down a little, and we put it in this shape: "Why will you?" I don't mean the one behind you, nor the one in front of you. I mean you. God bless you! This is a very personal matter.
You can't get anybody to die for you; and can't get anybody to stand in your stead at the day of Judgment and be damned for you. You stand in your own shoes, as if you are the only individual that ever violated a law of God. This is preeminently a personal matter, and we don't ask you why the world continues in sin or why the members of the Churches continue in sin, but we ask you, "Why will you continue in sin another day, another hour, another week?"
We say first: Is it because you are ignorant as to the nature of sin? Does any man in this congregation give me as his reason for living today in sin and living on in sin, because he doesn't know what sin is? Is there a man here this evening that doesn't know it is wrong to drink, wrong to violate the Sabbath, wrong to live in neglect of his Christian duty? Do you plead ignorance of the nature of sin? The world stands convicted at this point.
You let a member of the Church do wrong, and you are the first one to see it. You let my foot slip, and you are the first man to see it and talk about it; and your criticisms upon the life of the Christian people are an everlasting demonstration that you know what right is, and that you know what wrong is. You know there is a vast difference between the way we look at men in Church and out of Church. The world expects something of a man in Church. I am glad it does. The world doesn't expect much of you, and if it did it would be very much disappointed. Here is the difference between a member of the Church and a man out of Church. The member of the Church is a white piece of canvas, and if any thing is sprinkled upon him it makes a spot easy to discern. But that old sinner is a black, dingy piece of canvas, and you can just take any thing and rub upon him, and it doesn't show at all.
You let me go into a bar room and take a drink of whisky, and it is wired all over the country, and read in every newspaper at the breakfast table tomorrow morning. You go in and take a drink every morning and nobody notices you. This is the difference between a gentleman and a vagabond. You let me go out on the streets and profane the name of God, and it is flashed across the world, "Jones is in the city swearing." You can swear every day. Nobody notices you. Nobody expects any better of you for it. That is the difference between a gentleman and a vagabond. I thank God, I have lived to see the day in my State when nobody will swear or drink whisky but vagabonds. You don't like that? Do you? I don't blame you. I would not either. Fifteen years ago I would have felt very much insulted if I heard a Preacher say that. The truth is the same now that it was then, but, O, what a different fellow I am now from what I was then. Drinking is the habit of a vagabond, and profanity is the habit of a vagabond; and if you will be profane and swear you lack that much of being a gentleman. No gentleman will profane the name of God, and whatever else you lack, I am sorry to say that many of you come that much short of being a gentleman.
Ignorant of the nature of sin! Will you say you don't know your life is wrong? Every man answers back, and says: "That is not my excuse. I know what right is, and I know right is right. I know what wrong is, and further than that, I know wrong is wrong." Then we stop here and ask you this question: Is there any man that says, "The reason I live in sin is because I don't know what the consequences of a sinful life are"? I know, forsooth, because this nineteenth century is wicked, there is a hell. I heard a Minister say once, "That science is going to demonstrate that there is no hell." Said I, "When the delegation comes back I want to be on hand when they report." Science knows as little about hell, and what is in hell, as science knows about the birth place of God. The biggest fool I know is that fool who gets into the biggest, broadest way to hell, and stops by the way and tries to persuade men there is no hell. The biggest fool is the man who spends his probationary existence in arguing that there is no hell, and then lies down in hell forever, realizing that there is one. You poor dunce, what do you know of what is down there? Did you ever attend a Universalist meeting? I was at a Universalist meeting one day, and that day all the red nosed drunkards and gamblers and rascals of the town had the front seats and amen corners. All I want to know of a Preacher is, who has got the amen corners?
God pity you living in sin. What is to become of you? Let this Book speak out, and this is the only Book that says any thing of the other side of the tomb. I will keep to this Book until you find us something better, for this Book says that "the wicked shall be turned into hell with all the nations that forget God." I believe in a bottomless hell, and I believe that the wicked shall be turned into hell. I do believe that the righteous have hope after death, and eternal life is the legitimate end of a good man. I mean to say that God will not punish a single person except he fly in the face of the required law laid down on every page of this Book; except he lay his hand over every scar in his heart and says there is no scar there. I do believe if a man lives right he will get to Heaven, and those who do wrong will go to hell.
Do you think there is fire there? I don't know whether there will be any before you get there, unless you take something with you to burn you through all eternity. Every sinner carries his own brimstone with him. No sir, that man says he knows the legitimate end of a sinful life is hell; and if you will tell me how long sin will last, I will tell you how long hell will last. "It is not because I am ignorant of the nature or consequences of sin that I continue in it," may be your reply to my question. Then what is it? Are you indifferent to the results? O, how many men meet truth without a tremor in their muscles. When a man reaches this point, when you can't move him with truth, he is immovable.
What stolid indifference we meet on all sides! Men know their life is short, and that they may be in their coffins before tomorrow evening's sun, yet they are indifferent to their condition. "Indifferent?" You say, "I know what Preachers think of me, and neighbors think of me as indifferent, but down in my heart I think and feel more than anybody has discovered. I have gone home from Church with my Christian wife, her arm in mine, and I have heard my soul beat with conviction, but I would not have my wife hear it. Thank God, wherever else I went, I was never indifferent to the great truths of eternity. No, sir; it is not indifference. I look as if I were, but I am not."
Then, we ask, Is it recklessness? Is it because you know the truth and will dare the truth? Is it that? Recklessness is a poor thing in any world. O, how reckless some men are. We see that Alpine hunter as he walks on the narrow paths, with precipices on both sides. He realizes his risk, yet he walks on across the path, while the very dog that walks behind him will wince and turn. I have known men who seemed to be so reckless that they were unwilling to live on to their threescore years and ten, and lie down and die in the natural order of things. I see them at twenty years of age begin to drink, and they drink on until thirty years of age. They know they are about gone. "One year more, just twelve months, is all I can last," they say. Yet the poor fellow goes on, and seems to be grieving for damnation. And I see him walk out on the street, all besotted with whisky, and pick a quarrel with a friend, and that friend shoots him down, and he leaps from the sidewalks of the city into hell. God pity you! After all that has been said and done you will go, within twelve months, to a drunkard's grave! Forty years old, and before you are forty-one you will fall into a drunkard's grave! How is it?
Recklessness! You say, "I know wrong is wrong, but I won't heed it. I curse publicly. I drink openly. I sin with a high hand." God pity you! If I were going to sin I would crawl off in some dark corner and never let my example be seen to lead on any others. How reckless poor humanity is at times concerning the truth! It hurries on to the edge of the precipice, and stands and shudders but a moment, then makes a leap, from which there is no recovering forever.
"No, sir, it is not recklessness!"
Then I stop and ask you this question - Is it because you are satisfied in your present condition? Thank God, no man was ever satisfied with himself as a sinner. Twenty-five years of the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity have persuaded me that no man would ever be satisfied with himself as a sinner. Like the rough sea, you have no rest. You are devoid of peace within your breast. Thank God, he will not let a sinner lie down and sleep on his way to hell.
"No, Sir, I am not satisfied with myself."
And when those innocent children throw their lovely arms around your neck and look up in your face, in all the innocence of their nature, you say, "Of all the women that God ever gave children to, I am least calculated to lead them to God and everlasting life."
"Satisfied with myself? No, sir. Nobody can say that away from God and on his way to Perdition."
Then we will ask again, is it because of your inconsideration? I know sometimes a an will look at a thing and look off. Do you know what bar rooms are for, and billiard tables, and cards, and germans? They are tricks of the devil to keep your minds off of yourself. Sometimes men get conviction of the Divine Spirit, and they will go and dance it off, drink and swear and gamble it off. God pity a man who has convictions and will dance and curse them away; convictions that a lost spirit would give the world if he could have. If the devil can keep you busy all day in your store and make you dance yourself to sleep, he has got you pretty safe. There are members of the Church that rent houses for bar rooms. You are a joint stock owner of that thing, and if you can tell me how a man of God can be a joint stockholder in a bar room, then you have explained to me one of the profoundest mysteries of moral science. Every man belonging to a club is a joint owner of that bar room. I have been expecting some of the high bred gentlemen to come forward and defend the club. If I had such a nice thing I would just hire newspapers and defend it. And I will tell you that no bar room, that no deck of cards, can be defended in Heaven, on earth or in hell. You could not hire a decent idiot to sail into me on that question. I suppose some of you are mean enough to sail in, but you have got too much sense. I can associate with members of the Church, who belong to it, but when you set in to defend it, I would not wipe my feet on you. I am perfectly willing to give you all the time that I am not engaged in preaching.
"It is not because I am satisfied with my present condition. It is not because I won't think. I have thought, but doubts arise about these things."
Is it because you are leading a sort of compromise life? Do you say, I am going to be religious after a while? There is not a lost spirit in hell that has not said the same thing. You are going to be religious tomorrow. All that is within you, between you and eternal despair, is your heart that beats, and if that heart stops beating you are gone forever. "No," you say, "it is not because I am leading a compromise life."
Is it because a spiritual apathy has taken possession of you? O, how men sleep over their eternal interests! A man sleeping on the edge of a precipice, and he may go over forever! The wife of Mr. Rogers, of Marietta, Ga., was indisposed one morning. He sent a servant down the street for quinine, and when he returned with it, his wife took the prescription, mixed it and swallowed it. She then went to the door and said, "Husband, that was not quinine I took, just now." He ran hurriedly to the drug store. "What is that you sent my wife?" And the doctor answered, "I have sent enough morphine to your house to kill a dozen persons. I did it by mistake."
He ran back and got another physician and they went to his house and commenced to administer emetics. A death like stupor came over her, and she turned to her husband and said: "Please, sir, let me go to sleep." "O, no, if you go to sleep you will not awaken this side of eternity." They walked her up and down the floor, threw cold water on her face and continued to administer emetics. Again the death like stupor seized her and she said - "Please, sir, let me go to sleep five minutes." "No, wife, if you sleep five minutes you will never waken up again." And they worked and wearied until four hours passed away, and then the doctor said, "Now we have saved her." I have seen thousands with that death like stupor upon them, and they say, "Just let me sleep these last precious verses through", and as the last note dies away they are asleep, and when they awake they will open their eyes in hell. God pity a man that will sleep his eternal interests away.
You say it is not ignorance as to the nature of sin; it is not the consequences of sin; it is not because you are leading a compromise life; nor because of inconsiderateness; nor because you are sleeping through your interests. Is it because you have a conquered peace that defies all the batteries of Heaven?
Bishop Pierce was preaching at a camp meeting in Georgia, and among those attending there was a man not a Christian. He was an old man, and sat out in the straw in front of the Bishop. The Bishop said, when he sat down, "Something said to me, 'You are preaching the last awakening sermon that man will ever hear,' and the good power came to me, and I turned it upon the head of that old sinner." He sat and turned and twisted in his chair, and bit his lips, and when the Bishop quit preaching he got up, went to his cottage and barred the door, fastened the window, and prostrated himself on his face. By and by his wife came and knocked for admission, and the only answer she received was the groans of her husband. She looked through the cracks of the door and saw him prostrated on his face. She went back at 3 o'clock and he was in the same position. At sundown the battle was going on; at 12 o'clock that night the contest was still going on, waxing hotter and thicker, but grander in its results than the battles of Waterloo, or Gettysburg, or any battle that earth ever saw. At sunrise the next morning it continued, and at 9 o'clock it yet went on. At 1 o'clock the wife was standing opposite the cottage, and she saw the door fly open and she ran up to him. She could tell by the cold marble of his countenance that he had conquered. Yet it took him twenty-five hours to do it. That old man lived and died, but he did not have to fight any other battle.
You have got to surrender to God this evening. The hell spirit is here, and you have got to expel this spirit out of your heart. It may not take you twenty-five hours; it may not take you twenty-five seconds to fight the last battle. How long will we go on in sin? How long win God forbear? Where does hope end, and where begin the confines of despair? Will you take the step this evening from which there is no recovery?
In Ecclesiastes, chapter eight, eleventh verse, is the logic of damnation. Because sentences are not speedily executed; because justice does not crush you down immediately, are you to go on to ruin? Because there are ten years between me and eternal punishment, shall I spend these ten years in sin? Because God is good, shall I keep on in wickedness?
If that drunken man knew that in his next drunken dream God would send him to hell; if that profane swearer knew that the next oath he swore God would send him immediately to hell, they would not drink or swear any more. Don't think because the sentence is not speedily executed you can keep going speedily on. God help every one of us this evening! I recollect that day in my experience when I could look my precious wife in the face and say, "I have drank my last drop, wife." I recollect when I could look my friends in the face and say, "I have sworn my last oath."
Don't put it off any longer, until you are gray headed. Choose you this day whom you will serve. If I were a young man I would want to be religious. If I were an old man I would want to be religious. If the Spirit of God in Christ had always been cruel to me, I would serve him for what he was to my mother. O, how good He was to her. How He charmed her to His loving heart, and how sweetly she died! If Christ had always been cruel to me I would love Him for what He was to my precious father. I would love Him for what He is to my precious wife and children. I will love and praise Him forever for what He has done for me and mine.
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