CHRIST AND THE SINNER.
"Have mercy upon, me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."--PSALM li. 1, 2, 3, 17.
This Psalm was written by David when he was sorrowing for sin, and if there are any such among you, my dear friends, let me speak a few words to you. Would to God that I had the tongue of St. Paul to speak to you with--though even when he preached some mocked, as it will be to the end. But if to one of you God has brought home His truth, then to that one conscience-stricken sinner I will say, "You confess with David that all your sorrows are your own fault. Thank God that He has taught you so much."
But what will you do to be saved from your sins? "I cannot wait," you say in your heart, "to go home and begin leading a new life. I will do that, please God, but I want to know at once that I am forgiven. I want to be saved. I cannot save myself. I cannot save myself from hell hereafter, or from this miserable sinful life, nearly as bad as hell here. Oh! wretched being that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
Friend, dost thou not know it is written, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
"Ah yes!" says the sinner, "I have been hearing that all my life, and much good it has done me! Look at me, I want something more than those words about Christ, I want Christ Himself to save me if He can."
Ah, my brother!--poor sinner! thou hast never believed in Christ, thou hast only believed about Christ. There was the fault. But Christ Himself will save thee, though thou hast been the worst of reprobates, He will save thee. Only one thing, He will have thee answer first. "Dost thou wish to be saved from the punishment of thy sins, or from the sins themselves?"
"From my sins--from my sins," says the man who truly repents. "They are what I hate, even while I commit them. I hate and despise myself, I dare look neither God nor man in the face, and yet I go on doing the very things I loathe the next minute. Oh, for some one to save me from my own ill-temper, my own bitter tongue, my own laziness, my own canting habits, my own dishonesty, my own lustfulness. But who will save me from them? who will change me and make a new creature of me? Oh, for a sign from heaven that I can get rid of these bad habits! I hate them, and yet I love them. I long to give them up, and yet, if some one stronger than me does not have mercy on me, I shall go and do them again to-morrow. I am longing to do wrong now, and yet I long not to do wrong. Oh, for a sign from heaven!"
Poor sinner!--My brother! there is a sign from heaven for thee! On that table it stands. A sign that Christ's blood was shed to wash out thy sins, a sign that Christ's blood will feed thee, and give thy spirit strength to cast away and hate thy sins. Come to Holy Communion and claim thy share in Christ's pardon for the past, in Christ's strength for the future.
"What!" says the sinner, "I come to the Sacrament! I of all men the most unfit! I who but yesterday committed such and such sins!"
Friend, as to the sin you committed yesterday, confess that to God, not me. And if you confess it to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive it. But just because you think yourself the most unfit person to come to the Holy Sacrament, for that very reason I suspect you to be fit.
"How then!" says he in his heart, "I have but this moment repented of my sins! I have but this moment, for the first time felt that God's wrath is revealed against me, that hell is open for me!"
For that very reason, come to the Holy Sacrament, and thou shalt hear there that not hell at all, but heaven is open for thee.
"What, with all this guilty conscience, this load of sins against myself, my neighbours, my children, my masters, my servants, on my back!"
Yes, bring them all, and say in the words of the Communion Service: "I do earnestly repent, and am heartily sorry for these, my misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto me; the burden of them is intolerable." Why, for whom were these words written, but for you who feel that the burden of your sins is intolerable. They are there, not for those who feel no burden of sin, but for you--for you, and for those like you who feel the burden of your sins unbearable.
"But how shall I dare to come to the Lord's table before I am sure that my sins are forgiven?"
Come and you will hear your minister pray God to pardon and deliver you from all for Christ's sake. You will hear him read God's promises of free grace and mercy through Jesus Christ to all who truly repent.
"But I cannot trust your prayers or words, or any man's. I want a sign that I have a share in Christ's death and merits."
Then, that bread and wine is a sign. Jesus Himself ordained them for a sign. He Himself, with His dying voice declared that that bread was His body, that cup the new covenant in His blood. St. Paul declares that it is the communion, the sharing of Christ's body, that cup the sharing of His blood. What more sign do you want? Come and claim your share in Christ, and see if He disappoints you.
"Ah! I believe," says the poor man, "I believe, but I am afraid, afraid of partaking unworthily, and so provoking God, as the Prayer-book says to plague me with divers diseases and sundry kinds of death."
My Friend, if God was the devil, you might be afraid indeed. But He is the loving, righteous Father, who knows your weakness, and remembers that you are but dust. Can you not trust Him to pardon your mistakes about the Sacrament, which you do not wilfully intend to commit, when He has borne with, and pardoned all the sins from your youth up until now, which you have wilfully committed? Surely, you may trust Him in such a thing as this,--He who has had long-suffering enough to keep you alive, with a chance of salvation all this time? and as for sundry diseases, have you avoided them? You have certainly not avoided them, at least, by staying away from the Sacrament, and breaking Christ's command to take it? If you are so afraid of God's anger, are you more likely to provoke Him by disobeying His strict commands, or by obeying them? It needs no philosopher, my friend, to find out that.
"But I shall have to make good resolutions," says the sinner, "and I am afraid of breaking them."
Well, if you break them, you can but make them again. You would call him a fool who determined never to walk, because he was afraid of falling. But you are to claim in that Sacrament your share of Christ's Spirit, Christ's life, and Christ's strength, which is just what you want to enable you to keep your good resolutions. You will be no stronger, no more righteous of yourself after the Sacrament than before. Your spirit will still be a poor weak sinful spirit, but you will have claimed your share in God's strength, God's righteousness, God's Spirit, and they will make you love the good you hated, and hate the evil you loved. They will make you strong to do God's will whatever it may cost you. Oh believe the good news, and show that you believe by coming to Christ. He, the Blessed One, died for you. For you He was born and walked this earth, a poor suffering, tempted, sorrow-stricken man. For you He hung upon the shameful cross. For you He ascended up on high. For you He sent down His Spirit. For you He sits at the right hand of God, praying for you at this moment. For you He gave the signs of His body and His blood, that you might believe, and fall on your knees and cry, "In spite of all, I am forgiven. In spite of all, God cares for me. In spite of all, I have a Father and a Saviour who will never leave me, nor forsake me, wretch as I have been, till they make a man of me again, in this world, and for ever!" Oh! come, my dear, dear friends. I would give my right hand this moment, if I could but see each and every one of you shewing the truth of your repentance by coming to Holy Communion. Let this be a day of repentance, and shew it thus, and say, "We do not come to this, Thy table, O Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercy. We are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under Thy table, but Thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy."
Let this be a day of thanksgiving, too, and shew your thankfulness by coming to Holy Communion, and lifting up your voices, once for all, at that table, and saying:--
"We bless Thee, we praise Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory." These are the words for you this day. Oh! do not turn away. All your distress, all your sorrows have come from your not having faith in God. Break at once the accursed charm with which the devil has enchanted you. Have faith enough to come to God's holy table, and see if God does not reward you by giving you faith enough to conquer yourselves, and lead new lives like redeemed men in the sunshine of His smile, henceforth and forever!
My friends, what more can I say, except once and again, Come ye who labour and are heavy laden, and Christ will give you rest!
Ay, and He will. I speak only what I know--what I have felt. But before He will give you rest, be you rich or poor, young or old, you must learn to say those simple words (they are the best and only preparation for it), "God be merciful to me a sinner." Say them then from your heart, and so come to the Lord's Supper.
"O God and Saviour, Thou hast blest me, and I have cursed myself. Thou didst die to deliver me from the curse of sin, and I have brought it back on myself by my own folly. Thou livest for ever to make me good, and I, ungrateful and foolish, have made myself bad. In spite of my ingratitude, in spite of my folly, take me back into Thy service. I trust utterly in Thy unchangeable goodness and mercy. I trust that Thy blood will still wash away the past, that Thy spirit will still give me a clean heart and a right spirit. I believe that though I have cursed myself, yet Thou wilt still bless me; for Thou wiliest nought but the good of every creature Thou hast made. God be merciful to me a sinner!" Amen.
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