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PASTOR OF THE SOUTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, PITTSFIELD, MASS.
THE DEMANDS OF SINNERS UNREASONABLE.
“ He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the king of Israel, let him DO# come down from the cross, and we will believe on him.”—Matt. xxvii. 42.
These words were uttered respecting Jesus by the Scribes and Pharisees, after they had nailed him to the cross. They contain a confession that he had wrought miracles in saving others, and a charge that he was unable to save himself. They contain, also, a demand that he would prove his claims to the Messiahship by coming down from the cross, and a promise, that, if he would do this, they would receive him as the Messiah. It strikes us at once that this demand is unreasonable even to effrontery.
But, my hearers, the question, " Will you receive Christ as your Saviour ?” was not presented to the Jews of his own generation alone ; it is a practical question to every hearer of the gospel; it is a practical question to you, and, as such, without doubt, you bave all made it a subject of deliberation and decision. Yet many of you would tell me, should I ask
have not accepted Christ as he is offered in the gospel; that you do not exercise repentance for sin and faith in the Saviour; that you have never experienced that new birth, without which, as Jesus himself declares, no man can see the kingdom of God. I suppose you have some reason for this. I am not at liberty to suppose, that, as reasonable beings, you are acting on this momentous subject without giving to yourselves some reason which satisfies, or at least silences your consciences, and relieves you from the unpleasant conviction that your conduct in this respect is absolutely without reason, and therefore foolish. And probably you are making demands, on compliance with which you think you would accept the Saviour. “If the way of salvation were plainer, or if it were different, if my own circumstances in this respect or in that were altered—if God would exert a more powerful influence to awaken me, I would give my heart to him." Just so the Jews, in the very act of crucifying Christ, had their reason by which they justified themselves—" though he saved others, he cannot save himself; therefore we do well to reject his claims as the Messiah, and to crucify him as an impostor.” They also had their demands, on compliance with which they promised to receive him ; “Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe him.” It is my purpose—it may startle, I hope it will not offend you—it is my purpose to compare your reasons and demands with those by which the Pharisees justified themselves in crucifying Jesus. 'I intend to show that yours are as really unreasonable as theirs. My subject is, THE UNREASONABLENESS OF THE DEMANDS OF IMPENITENT SINNERS.
you, that you
I. You make demands which are unreasonable, because como pliance with them would defeat the divine plan of redemption.
This was one characteristic of the unreasonable demand of the Pharisees. If Christ had come down from the cross, the work of redemption would never have been finished. Similar demands are often made by ungodly men-demands that Christ would come down from the cross, that he would save us in some other way than by his atoning sacrifice, and his blood. Many, when aroused to the importance of gaining God's favor, I have known to say, “If, to win heaven, it were only necessary to go on the most wearying pilgrimage, or to build a costly temple, or to afflict my body by fasting, or scourging, most gladly would I do it; but to be saved by repentance and faith in Christ seems so dark and difficult, I cannot come to God.” This fact, familiar to all pastors who have had much intercourse with those who are seeking everlasting life, proves that the pilgrimages, the self-inflicted torments, the hermit's life, which abound where superstition reigns, result from a principle universally present in the human heart. If men could only scourge, and flay, and torture themselves into heaven, how gladly would they undertake it. If Christ would come down from the cross, they would gladly save themselves by their own sacrifices. If it were only penance instead of penitence, how gladly would they obey the requirement.
Of the same character is the prevalent disposition to seek salvation by good works alone. Men plead that if they are kind in their families, and to the poor; if they do not lie nor cheat, they shall win everlasting life; while they forget that, if they have been honest toward men, they have robbed God of the honor due unto his name; that, much as they talk of doing as they would be done by, they fail of keeping even this part of the law, which, like all the rest, is "exceeding broad;" that even if the claim that they do not lie, and do not wrong any one, is well-founded, this is only a negative virtue, only a claim that they avoid certain sins, not that they practice all the positive and perfect holiness which is required; and they forget that even if their lives are outwardly correct, their hearts are vile in God's sight. Hence, the first step of the sinner, when awakened to his danger, usually is to make resolutions to lead a better life, striving, by his own righteousness, to win God's favor, and fogetting Christ's words,“ without me ye can do nothing." If God would propose to him, sinner as he is, to save himself by the law, to be so holy, to do so great good works, that no reward less than eternal blessedness would meet the merits of his wonderful goodness, he would undertake the hopeless task ; but, as a lost sinner, to plead before the cross for
mercy, and to receive salvation as a free gift from God, to lead a holy life, not in his own strength, but by divine grace; not for the sake of purchasing heaven by merit, but out of humble love to the Redeemer—this he is not willing to do. His demand is that Christ come down from the cross; it is a demand, compliance with which would set aside the cross, and defeat the divine plan of redemption by grace.
II. Your demands are unreasonable, because you create yourselves the very difficulties which you claim to have removed. Jesus was moving among the Jews, working the most convincing miracles. They seized him, and nailed him to the cross : then they demanded that he should undo what their own malice had done,—“Come down from the cross, and we will believe.” A similar unreasonableness belongs to many of your demands. You say that you are so immersed in business that
have no time to attend to religion; that worldly cares crowd at every moment on your mind ; that, if you try to think of God, your thoughts wander to the world; that you cannot awaken in your own mind an interest in religious subjects; that, if you resolve to give more attention to religion, your old habits prevail, and your resolutions are broken ; that, though you know you are a sinner, you cannot feel it, and, though you know Christ is lovely, you cannot love him. But why are these things so? Who is responsible for the existence of these difficulties? Is it not your own hand that has plunged your soul into this flood of worldliness, with its “ temptations, and snares, and many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition ?" Is it not yourself who have nurtured by indulgence these strong habits of sin, fixed
your affections on it, and deadened your sensibility to its guilt? With what reason can you urge, as your apology for inaction, the chains which your own hands have fastened on your souls ? Wherein is it more reasonable than the plea of the Pharisees, who first nailed Christ to the cross, and then urged the fact that he hung there as the justification of his crucifixion?
III. Demands are unreasonable which require additional evidence of the importance of religion, when sufficient has been already given.
Unreasonableness of this kind characterized the demand of the Pharisees. They had seen the Saviour's miracles--healing the sick, casting out devils, raising the dead-miracles as great as it would have been to come down from the cross. It was unreasonable in them to propose that, if a single miracle should be added to the multitude already given, they would be ready to receive Jesus as the Christ. Precisely similar is the unreasonableness of many of your demands. They imply that you have not sufficient evidence of the reality of religion, though you have evidence in abundance. Your demands imply that a trilling addition of the very same kind of evidence would remove all difficulty, and make you a believer at once.
You imagine, for example, that the reason why you do not accept Christ, lies in the dimness of spiritual realities. You say, “If I had lived in Christ's day, and had seen his miracles, I should have been his disciple;" or, “If I should be caught up, like Paul, into the third heavens, or if one should come to me from the dead, I should be persuaded." But why delude yourself thus? You do not doubt that Christ came into the world to save sinners; why, then, do you ask for additional evidence? You have no doubt that he wrought miracles and rose from the dead; why do you imagine that one miracle more would make God's service pleasant? Do you ask that one should come to you from the dead, and do you not know that messengers have come from heaven to earth, even the Son of God himself?
And his message--the Word of God--have you not in your own hand? Why do you imagine that additional miracles would quench your love of the world and make you delight in Christ's service? Your demand is like that of the crucifiers of Jesus, when after all his miracles, his holy life, his divine teachings, they said, “Come down from the cross, and we will believe.” The Saviour has said, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” It would be easy to show why it would be so; that all the wonders which you ask would fail to lead you to Christ any more than the wonders which the Bible records ; but time forbids; I leave you with the Saviour's solemn asseveration of the fact, “If ye hear not Moses and the prophets, neither would you be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” In addition, I will only suggest to you the fact, which may well awaken your suspicion, that your reasoning is mere self-delusion, that the Pharisees once presented the very same plea.
At the very moment when they were plotting the death of the Son of God, they were lamenting the martyrdom of the ancient prophets, and saying, “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” What but à like self-delusion do you exhibit when you say, “If we had lived in the days of Jesus, we should have been his loving disciples,” or urge any plea which implies that your neglect of religion is owing to the distance and obscurity of spiritual realities?
Oiher demands exhibit the same unreasonableness. The reason most commonly given for indifference to religion, is the inconsistency of professors. Speak to men on the necessity of their repentance, and, in three cases out of four, before the conversation closes, they will parry the appeal by saying that the lives of members of the churches are not consistent with their profession. I wonder it never occurs to you, that this very fact is itself a proof that the gospel is true; for the Saviour foretold that there would be many who would profess to be his servants whom he never knew. If such false professors had not always existed, His word would not have been proved true. But aside from this, your plea involves an unreasonableness like that of the demand of the Pharisees, that Christ would come down from the cross; for it assumes, that if you only had a little more evidence of the reality of religion, precisely like that of which you already have much, you would repent. I presume every one of you knows some whom he acknowledges as real Christians;-perhaps a venerated parent, a beloved wife, a son, or daughter, now passed into the heavens. And beyond the circle of your personal acquaintance, among those who forsake kindred and home, and toil through life for the sal. vation of the heathen, among those who explore the vaults of prisons and the cellars of cities, to do good to the outcast and the wretched, among those who toil in obscurity, and from house to house, to carry Bibles and to extend the knowledge of the gospel, among those who in this nineteenth century are suffering imprisonment, impoverishment, and even persecution unto death, for the love of Christ, you must believe that there are many who exhibit the beauty and power of true religion. Nay, you may go back through all the past, and look at the Pauls, the HOWARDS, the MARTYNS, whose lives have adorned the history of man, and at the countless company of the martyrs of our God. Consider, also, all the beneficent influences of Christianity in enlightening and purifying mankind. You are no stranger to these triumphs of the cross, to these demonstrations of its divine power. And yet you plead, that, because A, B, and c, do not live consistently with their profession, you will neglect religion, and treat it as if it were a worthless imposture. Like the Pharisees, who, after seeing Christ's many miracles, promised that, if he would work one more, they would believe, you, after beholding the power of the Gospel in the heavenly lives and happy deaths of your own acquaintance, in imparting to those once vile the spirit of Christ, in transforming bloody and licentious heathen into gentle and pure disciples of the Prince of Peace, in ennobling the world's history with philanthropists, reformers, and martyrs for the truth, and in quickening, guiding, and purifying the progress