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My main intention, to which I have set my whole soul, is to deal with those mourners who are seeking Christ, but until now have sought him in vain. Convinced of sin, awakened and alarmed, these unhappy ones wait for a long time outside the gate of mercy, shivering in the cold, pining to enter into the banquet which invites them, but declining to pass through the gate which stands wide open for them. Tremblingly, they refuse to enter within mercy’s open door, although infinite love itself cries to them, “Come, and welcome: enter and be blessed.” It is the most surprising thing that there should be in this world persons who have the richest consolation near to hand, and persistently refuse to take it. It seems so unnatural, that, if we had not been convinced by abundant observation, we should think it impossible that any miserable soul should refuse to be comforted. Does the ox refuse its fodder? Will the lion turn from his meat, or the eagle loathe its nest? The refusal of consolation is even more strange because the most admirable comfort is within reach. Sin can be forgiven; sin has been forgiven; Christ has made an atonement for it. God is graciously willing to accept any sinner who comes to him confessing his transgressions and trusting in the blood of the Lord Jesus. God waits to be gracious, he is not hard nor harsh; he is full of mercy; he delights to pardon the penitent, and is never more revealed in the glory of his God-head than when he is accepting the unworthy through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. There is so much comfort in the Word of God that it is as easy to set the limits of space as it is to measure the grace revealed there. You may seek to comprehend all the sweetness of divine love, but you cannot, for it passes knowledge. The abounding goodness of God made manifest in Jesus Christ is like the vast expanse of the ocean. It is extraordinary, then, that men refuse to receive what is so lavishly provided.
It is said that some years ago, a vessel sailing on the northern coast of the South American continent was observed to make signals of distress. When hailed by another vessel, they reported themselves as “Dying for water!” “Dip it up, then,” was the response; “you are in the mouth of the Amazon River.” There was fresh water all around them, they had nothing to do but dip it up, and yet they were dying of thirst because they thought themselves to be surrounded by the salt sea. How often are men ignorant of their mercies! How sad that they should perish for lack of knowledge!
But suppose, after the sailors had received the joyful information, they had still refused to draw up the water, which was in boundless plenty all around them, would it not have been a marvel? Would you not at once conclude that madness had taken hold of the captain and his crew? Yet this is the sort of madness of many who hear the gospel. They know that there is mercy provided for sinners; that unless the Holy Spirit interferes they will perish, not through ignorance, but because, for some reason or other, like the Jews of old, they judge themselves “unworthy of everlasting life”; yet they still exclude themselves from the gospel, refusing to be comforted. This is even more remarkable because the comfort provided is so safe. If there were suspicions that the comforts of the gospel would prove false or misleading, that they would only foster presumption and so destroy the soul, men would be wise to retreat as if from a cup of poison. But many have satisfied themselves at this life-giving stream; not one has been injured, but all who have drunk have been eternally blessed.
Why, then, does the thirsty soul hesitate, while the river, clear as crystal, flows at his feet? Moreover, the comfort of the gospel is entirely suitable, it is fully adapted to the sinful, the weak, and the broken-hearted adapted to those who are crushed by their need of mercy, and adapted equally as much to those who are least aware of their need of it. The gospel bears an ointment (to heal or soothe) in its hand suited to the sinner in his worst state when he has nothing good about him, and nothing within him can possibly be a ground of hope. Does the gospel not declare that Christ died for the ungodly? Is it not a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom, said the apostle, “I am chief”? Is the gospel not intended even for those who are dead in sin? Do we not read words such as these, “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved)”? Are the invitations of the gospel, so far as we can judge, not the kindest, tenderest, and most attractive that could be penned and addressed to the worst emergency in which a sinner can be placed? “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isa 55:1) “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isa 55:7) No qualifying adjectives are used to set forth a degree of goodness in the person invited, but the wicked are asked to come, and the unrighteous are commanded to turn to God. The invitation deals with base, naked, unimproved sinnership. Grace seeks for misery, unworthiness, guilt, helplessness, and nothing else. Not because we are good, but because the Lord is gracious, we are bidden to believe in the infinite mercy of God in Christ Jesus, and so to receive comfort. It is strange that where consolation is so plentiful—where comfort is so safe, where the heart-cheer is so suitable—thousands of souls should be found who refuse to be comforted.
This fact grows still more remarkable because these persons greatly need comfort, and from what they say, and I trust also from what they feel, you might infer that comfort was the very thing they would clutch at, as a drowning man does at a rope. Why, they scarcely sleep at night by reason of their fears. By day, their faces betray the sorrow which, like a tumultuous sea, rages within them. They can scarcely speak a cheerful sentence. They make their household miserable; the infection of their sorrow is caught by others. You would think that the very moment the word “hope” was whispered in their ears, they would leap towards it at once; but it is not so. You may put the gospel into whatever shape you please, and yet these poor souls who need your pity, though, I fear, they must also have your blame, refuse to be comforted. Though food is placed before them, their soul abhors all kinds of meat, and they draw near to the gates of death; indeed, you may even put the heavenly cordial into their mouths, but they will not receive the spiritual nutrition; they pine in hunger rather than take what divine love provides.
When the dove was weary, she remembered the ark and flew into Noah’s hand at once; these people are weary and they know the ark, but they will not fly into it. When an Israelite had killed, inadvertently, his fellow, he knew the city of refuge, he feared the avenger of blood, and he fled along the road to the place of safety. These sinners know the refuge, and every Sabbath we set up the signposts along the road, but still, they do not come to find salvation. The destitute waifs and strays of the streets of London find out the night-refuge and ask for shelter; they cluster around our workhouse doors like sparrows under the eaves of a building on a rainy day; they piteously crave for lodging and a crust of bread; yet crowds of poor benighted spirits, when the house of mercy is lit up and the invitation is plainly written in bold letters, “Whosoever will let him turn in hither,” will not come.
For many sinners, their refusal to be comforted arises from bodily and mental disease. It is vain to ply with scriptural arguments those who are in more urgent need of healing medicine, or a generous diet. There is so close a connection between the sphere of the physician and the divine that they do well to hunt in couples when chasing the delusions of morbid humanity, and I am persuaded that there are many cases in which the minister’s presence is of little use until the physician has first wisely discharged his part.
In some people, the monstrous refusal is suggested by a proud dislike to the plan of salvation. They would be comforted, but may they not do something to earn eternal life? May they not at least contribute a feeling or emotion? May they not prepare themselves for Christ? Must salvation be all gratis? Must they be received into the house of mercy as paupers? Must they come with no other cry but, “God be merciful to me a sinner”? Must it come to this—to be stripped, to have every rag of one’s own righteousness torn away, even the righteousness of feeling as well as the righteousness of doing? Must the whole head be confessedly sick, and the whole heart faint, and the man lies before Jesus as utterly undone and ruined, to take everything from the hand of the crucified Savior? Ah then, says flesh and blood, I will not have it. The banner of self is held up by a giant standard-bearer; it floats on long after the battle has been lost. But what folly! For the sake of indulging a foolish dignity, we will not be comforted. Down with you and your dignity! I beseech you, bow down now before the feet of Jesus and kiss the feet which were nailed for your sins.
In others, it is not pride, but an unholy resolve to retain some favorite sin. In most cases when the Christian minister tries to heal a wound that has long been bleeding, he probes and probes again with his lancet, wondering why the wound will not heal. It seems to him that all the circumstances argue successful healing of the wound. He cannot imagine why it still continues to bleed, but at last, he finds out the secret: “Ah, here I have it; here is an extraneous substance which continually frets and aggravates the wounds; it cannot heal while this grit of sin lies within it.” In some cases, we have found out that the sorrowing person still indulged in a secret vice, or kept the society of the ungodly, or was undutiful to parents, or unforgiving, or slothful, or practiced that hideous sin, secret drunkenness. In such a case, if the man resolves, “I will not give up this sin,” is it any wonder he is not comforted? Would it not be an awful thing if he were? When a man carries a corroding substance within his soul, if his wound is filmed over, an internal disease will come of it and prove deadly. Confess to Jesus, who will forgive all your foolishness and accept you, so that you shall refuse to be comforted no longer.
Some refuse to be comforted because of an obstinate determination only to be comforted in a way of their own selecting. They have read the life of a certain good man who was saved with a particular kind of experience. “Now,” they say, “if I feel like that man, then I shall conclude I am saved.” Many have hit upon the experience in Grace Abounding; they have said, “Now, I must be brought just as John Bunyan was, or else I will not believe.” Another has said, “I must tread the path which John Newton trod—my feet must be placed in the very marks where his feet went down, or else I cannot believe in Jesus Christ.” But what reason have you for expecting that God will yield to your self-will, and what justification have you for prescribing to the Great Physician the methods of his cure? Oh, if he brings me to heaven, I will bless him, even though he may conduct me there by the gates of hell. If I am brought to see the King in his beauty, in the land which is very far off, it shall not trouble my heart by what method of experience he brought me there. Come, lay aside this foolish choosing of yours, and say, “Lord, have mercy on me, enable me to trust your dear Son, and my whims and my fancies will be given up.”
I fear, in many, there is another reason for refusing to be comforted, namely, dishonoring unbelief in the love and goodness and truthfulness of God. They do not believe God to be gracious; they think him a tyrant, or if not quite that, One so stern that a sinner needed to plead and beg for a long time before the heart of God will be touched. Oh, but you do not know my God! What is he? He is love. I tell you he wants no persuading to have mercy, any more than the sun needs to be persuaded to shine, or a fountain to pour out its streams. It is the nature of God to be gracious. He is never so godlike as when he is bestowing mercy. “Judgment is his strange work”; it is his left-handed work; but mercy, the last manifested of his attributes, is his Benjamin, the child of his right hand, he delights to exercise it. Is it not written, “He delighteth in mercy”? Alas! alas! that God should be slandered by those to whom he speaks so lovingly! “As I live, saith the Lord,” here he takes an oath, and will you not believe him? “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye!… for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Eze 33:11). He even seems to turn beggar to his own creatures, and to plead with them to come to him. He yearns for their salvation as he cries, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” (Hosea 11:8–9) Oh, do not, I beseech you, be unbelieving any longer, but believe God’s word and oath, and accept the comfort which he freely offers to you in the word of his gospel!
Some, however, have refused comfort so long, that they have grown into the habit of despair. Ah, it is a dangerous habit, and trembles on the brink of hell. Every moment in which it is indulged a man grows inured to it. It is like the cold of the frigid zone, which benumbs the traveler after a while, till he feels nothing and drops into slumber, and from that into death. Some have despaired and despaired until they had a reason for despair, and until despair brought them into hell. Despair has hardened some men’s hearts till they have been ready to commit sins which hope would have rendered impossible to them. Beware of nursing despondency. Does it creep up on you through unbelief? Oh, shake it off, if possible! Cry to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to lose you from this snare of the fowler; for, depend upon it, doubting God is a net of Satan, and blessed is he who escapes its toils. Believing in God strengthens the soul and brings us both holiness and happiness, but distrusting, and suspecting, and surmising, and fearing, hardens the heart, and renders us less likely ever to come to God. Beware of despair; and may you, if you have fallen into this evil habit, be snatched from it as the brand from the burning fire, and delivered by the Lord, who loses his prisoner.
by C. H. Spurgeon
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