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BY REV. EMERSON DAVIS, D.D.,
HEAVEN ENTERED THROUGH CHRIST THE DOOR.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." -John X. 1.
From the use our Saviour made of this remark, we are at no loss about its meaning. He calls himself the door through which heaven is entered, and teaches us that those who seek for admission in any other way, will not only fail of accomplishing their purpose, but will incur great guilt and expose themselves to a severer condemnation. As the man who seeks to enter a sheepfold in a clandestine manner, or in a way that one who had a right to enter would not, is presumed to have some evil intentions ; so those who would enter heaven in some other way than through the door, are regarded as unwilling to be indebted to Christ for their salvation.
The text teaches, that we must be saved by Christ, if at all, and that sinners are desirous of securing eternal life in some
I shall endeavor to describe the feelings of an awakened sinner at different stages of his conviction, and to show that he is aiming all the while to climb up in some other way.
1. Consider what he does when his attention is first arrested by the Holy Spirit. A ray of light has darted into his mind, and he feels wretched and miserable. He is arraigned before the bar of his own conscience and condemned. He not only knows that. he has sinned, but he feels a consciousness of guilt. He cannot rest; his soul is disquieted; he has a fearful looking-for of judgment. Many, and perhaps most of you have at some period of life, been in this state of mind. Some of you turned back to a state of indifference and soon forgot what manner of persons you were, and some after being driven from every hiding place, finally came to Christ. You did not when first convicted of sin flee immediately to him, but you attempted to climb up in some other way. You sought to secure the favor of God and pardoning mercy by breaking off from some outward acts of wickedness. If you had desecrated the Sabbath, used profane language, or were addicted to any bad habit you resolved to reform, to
put away the evil of your doings. As the master of a ship, engaged in the smuggling trade, when in fear of being taken, throws his goods overboard, so you began to put away your sins, though they were dear to you as a right hand or eye-you hoped thus to bring relief to a guilty conscience.
Some never go farther than this ; they find the habits of sin so strong, that they conclude to indulge therein a little longer, and die at last as they have lived.
But others having reformed their outward conduct, perceive that ceasing to do wickedly is only a negative kind of religion, that there is nothing positive in it, and nothing to which they can trust for salvation. They have no peace of mind, and none of the joys of which those speak, who are the followers of Christ. They had expected, that as soon as they reformed their outward conduct, a change would come over them ; that old things would pass away and all things become new. But they begin to see that the whole of their sinfulness does not consist in external obliquities, that they are guilty of numberless omissions, and that ceasing to do evil will not make them what they should be. They begin to get a glimpse of the impurity that is within. Thus ends the first stage of the sinner's conviction.
II. Let us follow him through another stage of his conviction. Instead of fleeing to Christ with a full persuasion that he cannot save himself, he resolves to perform the duties he has neglected, hoping that if he adds "learning to do well” to “ceasing to do evil," it will bring him into a state of salvation. He begins to pray and to search the Scriptures. Like Herod he does many things and hears the word gladly. He endeavors to conform to the requirements of the law. He goes to the inquiry meeting and his expectation is, that the Lord will pardon his sins and fill his soul with peace, because he is now more obedient. He imagines himself to be truly penitent, and believes the Lord will reward him by putting a new song into his mouth. Some, while in this state, are injudiciously encouraged by their friends to conclude, that they have really been converted ; that if they will only think they are, all will be well. Thus without having come to Christ or even attempted to enter through the door, some conclude they have been renewed and made meet for the inheritance of the saints. The thought that they may be Christians, and that others think so, fills them with a degree of joy they never felt before. They seem to endure for a while, then relapse into their former state, and bring forth no fruit meet for repentance. Their goodness is like the morning cloud.
But some are preserved from this fatal delusion. They perceive that their hearts cannot be right. Their consciences trouble them still, for not coming up to the standard of requirement; the law denounces them for not "continuing in all things written in the book of the law to do them.” They become at
length satisfied, that they cannot secure the gift of God, which is eternal life, by refraining from outward immoralities, nor by their efforts to keep the law perfectly. Driven from the hope of climbing up to heaven in this way, the sinner has now arrived at the end of the second stage of his efforts. Having found that by the deeds of the law he cannot be justified, let us consider,
III. How he still further tries to secure the favor of God without coming to Christ. He finds it written, “ he that confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall find mercy," that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins," and not considering that such promises imply a reliance upon Christ as the meritorious ground of acceptance, he confesses his sins, asks for pardon, and promises to be more watchful. He is trusting still to his own doings as much as before. The only difference between his present and former state is, that he has added to his efforts to keep the law, confessions and good resolutions. Thus many go on through life, knowing no other religion than to perform duties and pray that their omissions may be forgiven. They hope for heaven while entire strangers to Christ. The Spirit of the Lord, however, leads some of these confessors to see that hitherto they have been laboring to make clean the outside of the cup and platter, that the commandment is exceeding broad, that it extends to the thoughts and intents of the heart. They discover that an external religion is insufficient, that "he is not a Jew who is one outwardly," and that their hearts are full of pride, covetousness, envy, and other evil passions. They begin to see that the heart is the fountain from which their outward acts flow, and that it will avail nothing to labor to purify the stream while the fountain is corrupt. Having arrived at the end of this stage of their inquiries, let us see,
IV. In what other way the convicted sinner will seek to climb up to heaven, without entering through the door. The idea still prevails, that he can in some way work out a righteousness of his own. He does not think of relying upon the righteousness of Christ, nor does he yet feel his need of a mediator. He begins to mourn over the evils of his heart, and to confess these as he did his outward transgressions. He strives to mortify his pride, to curb his evil passions, and to banish from his mind wicked thoughts. He prays more earnestly, hears more attentively, and strives to have his heart more affected. If he seems to himself to have some success in this new effort, he begins to think he is a Jew inwardly as well as outwardly, and here he 'may settle down with a conviction that the work is now done. The thought that he, perhaps, is already a Christian, gives him some joy. He is in danger of mistaking a change wrought by his own efforts for regeneration by the Holy Ghost, and the joy he has in contemplating his own works for joy in the Lord.
It is not so with all. Some perceive that their hearts are still full of evil; they find no end to wrong-doing and wrong feeling. The more they consider their ways, the more evil they discover. If they succeed in mortifying one proud feeling, they perceive that they are proud of their success—their pride developes itself continually in some new form. If they cease to covet one thing, they covet another; or to envy one person, they forthwith envy another. They seem to themselves to be in the condition of one who begins to mend an old garment; the more he examines, the more rents he discovers; or like one upon ice that is giving way under his feet ; he changes his position, but it breaks there also, and he can find no rest for the sole of his foot. He sees himself to be more depraved than he ever supposed himself to be ; that there is no free part nor soundness in him, and that he is full of wounds and bruises. Here ends the fourth stage of the inquirer's progress. Let us consider,
V. Whether the sinner is now ready to enter through the door. He feels his need of help; he is convinced that he cannot make himself righteous. He cannot now, and thinks he never shall obey the law perfectly. The sins of his past life stand against him, and he can do nothing but confess them. He is satisfied that he needs help, but still he expects to do much towards saving himself. He has heard that Christ came to seek and save the lost, that he is a compassionate Saviour, and his help he will freely give. He goes to Christ with a desire that enough of his righteousness may be granted to make up his own deficiency. He resolves to do what he can himself, and look to Christ for the remainder. Some rest here, and live on through life expecting to be saved partly by their own doings, and partly by the grace of Christ.
Some, however, are here brought to see, that if a person seeks to be saved in part by his own deeds, he must trust to them entirely, for there can be no mixing up of his own righteousness with that of Christ. The epistle to the Galatians teaches most clearly the fallacy of the hopes of those who attempt to climb up to heaven in this way. The ways of faith and of works are so different that it is impossible to walk in both. If he pursues one he must abandon the other. The Redeemer will do nothing for those who ask him to do only in part. A garment made up of sundry sorts of righteousness is not the seamless robe of Christ's righteousness, in which all who enter heaven must be clothed. The sinner, finding that he must be saved by Christ through faith, and that there is no merit in his own doings, is brought to the end of the fifth stage of his progress. Though he has been often invited to come to Christ, to forsake all and follow him, he has never done it. He has been trying continually to climb up in some other way. But,
VI. Will the sinner now submit to the Saviour, and come under the shield of his righteousness. Some undoubtedly do, at this point, forsake all for Christ; they make no further efforts to climb up in a way of their own devising—they fall down before him and plead that he will be merciful to a sinner. But others do not even here submit themselves entirely. The pride of their hearts is not wholly subdued. Though they see they must enter through the door, or be excluded, yet they go to the Saviour with a price in their hands, or with a promise that they will be his servants, if he will receive them graciously ; that they will follow him, if he will give them some assurance that their names are written in the book of Life. They are not ready to give themselves away unconditionally. Before they give up all, they wish for some assurance over and above the promises contained in the word of God, that they shall be saved. At this point, some say they have done all they can. They have no doubt done all they can to merit salvation, but they have not yet without any reserve, thrown themselves upon the mercy of Christ, with a willingness that he should do what seemeth good in his sight. The sinner must submit himself entirely to God; he must say in substance, I commit myself into thy hands; do with me as seemeth good in thy sight.
While some wish to be assured in some way, that they shall be saved, others are not willing to take the lowest seat and be accounted most unworthy. They do not wish to come as beggars for mercy. They will follow Christ, provided the paths in which he will lead them shall always be pleasant and agreeable. He who comes to the Saviour with such provisions, is brought at length to see that really he has no faith in Christ. He shrinks back from an unconditional submission ; but being at length convinced of his unbelief, he reproaches himself for his unwillingness to trust himself in the hands of him, who is able to save unto the uttermost all that come to God by him. He now feels that he deserves no mercy, and that if he should be rejected, it would be perfectly just. This is usually the last stage in the sinner's course of rebellion.
What shall he now do? Behold, he says, I am vile ; he sees that his heart is unholy and must be renewed, that he can give to God no ransom for his soul, that he can make no terms of his own, and despairing utterly of climbing up to heaven in a way of his own contriving, he says, “ here,” Lord, “I give myself away. Do unto me as seemeth good unto thee.” He makes an unconditional surrender and immediately there is a great calm. The controversy is ended. His soul is serene as a summer morning. A sweet peace pervades his mind. He is willing to do any thing that is required, to be accounted the least of all saints, and to follow Christ through the whole of his earthly pilgrimage.
I will not say that every convicted sinner goes through all the