"There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem! I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."-- Luke 13:1-5.
THE YEAR 1861 will have a notoriety among its fellows as the year of calamities. Just at that season when man goeth forth to reap the fruit of his labors, when the harvest of the earth is ripe, and the barns are beginning to burst with the new wheat, Death too, the mighty reaper, has come forth to out down his harvest; full sheaves have been gathered into his garner--the tomb, and terrible have been the wailings which compose the harvest hymn of death. In reading the newspapers during the last two weeks, even the most stolid must have been the subject of very painful feelings. Not only have there been catastrophes so alarming that the blood chills at their remembrance, but column after column of the paper has been devoted to calamities of a minor degree of horror, but which, when added together, are enough to astound the mind with the fearful amount of sudden death which has of late fallen on the sons of men. We have had not only one incident for every day in the week, but two or three; we have not simply been stunned with the alarming noise of one terrific clash, but another, and another, and another, have followed upon each other's heels, like Job's messengers, till we have needed Job's patience and resignation to hear the dreadful tale of woes.
Now, men and brethren, such things as these have always happened in all ages of the world. Think not that this is a new thing; do not dream, as some do, that this is the produce of an overwrought civilization, or of that modern and most wonderful discovery of steam. If the steam engine had never been known, and if the railway had never been constructed, there would have been sudden deaths and terrible accidents, not withstanding. In taking up the old records in which our ancestors wrote down their accidents and calamities, we find that the old stage coach yielded quite as heavy a booty to death as does the swiftly-rushing train; there were gates to Hades then as many as there are now, and roads to death quite as steep and precipitous, and traveled by quite as vast a multitude as in our present time. Do you doubt that? Permit me to refer you to the chapter before you. Remember those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell. What if no collision crushed them; what if they were not destroyed by the ungovernable iron horse dragging them down from an embankment; yet some badly-built tower, or some wall beaten by the tempest could fall upon eighteen at a time, and they might perish. Or worse than that, a despotic ruler, having the lives of men at his girdle, like the keys of his palace, might fall upon worshipers in the temple itself, and mix their blood with the blood of the bullocks which they were just then sacrificing to the God of heaven. Do not think, then, that this is an age in which God is dealing more hardly with us than of old. Do not think that God's providence has become more lax than it was, there always were sudden deaths, and there always will be. There always were seasons when death's wolves hunted in hungry packs, and, probably, until the end of this dispensation, the last enemy will hold his periodic festivals, and glut the worms with the flesh of men. Be not, therefore, cast down with any sudden fear, neither be ye troubled by these calamities. Go about your business, and if your avocations should call you to cross the field of death itself, do it, and do it bravely. God has not thrown up the reins of the world, he has not taken off his hand from the helm of the great ship, still
"He everywhere hath sway,
And all things serve his might;
His every act pure blessing is,
His path unsullied light."
Only learn to trust him, and thou shalt not be afraid of sudden fear; "thy soul shall dwell at ease, and thy seed shall inherit the earth."
The particular subject of this morning, however, is this--the use which we ought to make of these fearful texts which God is writing in capital letters upon the history of the world. God hath spoken once, yea, twice, let it not be said that man regardeth it not. We have seen a glimmering of God's power, we have beheld something of the readiness with which he can destroy our fellow-creatures. Let us "hear the rod and him that hath appointed it," and in hearing it, let us do two things. First, let us not be so foolish as to draw the conclusion of superstitious and ignorant persons--that conclusions which is hinted at in the text, namely, that those who are thus destroyed by accident are sinners above all the sinners that be in the land. And, secondly, let us draw the right and proper inference, let us make practical use of all these events for our own personal improvement, let us hear the voice of the Savior saying, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
I. First, then, LET US TAKE HEED THAT WE DO NOT DRAW THE RASH AND HASTY CONCLUSION FROM TERRIBLE ACCIDENTS, THAT THOSE WHO SUFFER BY THEM SUFFER ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR SINS.
It has been most absurdly stated that those who travel on the first day of the week and meet with an accident, ought to regard that accident as being a judgment from God upon them on account of their violating the Christian's day of worship. It has been stated even by godly ministers, that the late deplorable collision should be looked upon as an exceedingly wonderful and remarkable visitation of the wrath of God against those unhappy persons who happened to be in the Clayton tunnel. Now I enter my solemn protest against such an inference as that, not in my own name, but in the name of Him who is the Christian's Master and the Christian's Teacher. I say of those who were crushed in that tunnel, think ye that they were sinners above all the sinners "I tell you, all: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." Or those who perished but last Monday, think ye that they were sinners above all the sinners that were in London? "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likes wise perish." Now, mark, I would not deny but what there have sometimes been judgments of God upon particular persons for sin; sometimes, and I think but exceedingly rarely, such things have occurred. Some of us have heard in our own experience instances of men who have blasphemed God and defied Him to destroy them, who have suddenly fallen dead; and in such cases, the punishment has so quickly followed the blasphemy that one could not help perceiving the hand of God in it. The man had wantonly asked for the judgment of God, his prayer was heard and the judgment came. And, beyond a doubt, there are what may be called natural judgments. You see a man ragged, poor, houseless; he has been profligate, he has been a drunkard, he has lost his character, and it is but the just judgment of God upon him that he should be starving, and that he should be an outcast among men. You see in the hospitals loathsome specimens of men and women foully diseased; God forbid that we should deny that in such a case--the punishment being the natural result of the sin--there is a judgment of God upon licentiousness and ungodly lusts. And the like may be said in many instances where there is so clear a link between the sin and the punishment that the blindest men may discern that God hath made Misery the child of Sin. But in cases of accident, such as that to which I refer, and in cases of sudden and instant death, again, I say, I enter my earnest protest against the foolish and ridiculous idea that those who thus perish are sinners above all the sinners who survive unharmed.
Let me just try to reason this matter out with Christian people, for there are some unenlightened Christian people who will feel horrified by what I have said. Those who are ready at perversions may even dream that I would apologise for the breach of the day of worship. Now I do no such thing. I do not extenuate the sin, I only testify and declare that accidents are not to be viewed as punishments for sin, for punishment belongs not to this world, but to the world to come. To all those who hastily look on every calamity as a judgment I would speak in the earnest hope of setting them right. Let me begin, then, by saying, my dear brethren, do not you see that what you say is not true? and that is the best of reasons why you should not say it. Does not your own experience and observation teach you that one event happeneth both to the righteous and to the wicked? It is true, the wicked man sometimes falls dead in the street; but has not the minister fallen dead in the pulpit? It is true that a pleasure-boat, in which men were seeking their own pleasure on the Sunday, has suddenly gone down; but is it not equally true that a ship which contained none but godly men, who were bound upon an excursion to preach the gospel, has gone down too? The visible providence of God has no respect of persons; and a storm may gather around the "John Williams" missionary ship, quite as well as around a vessel filled with riotous sinners. Why, do you not perceive that the providence of God has been, in fact, in its outward dealings, rather harder upon the good than upon the bad? For; did not Paul say, as he looked upon the miseries of the righteous in his day, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable?" The path of righteousness has often conducted men to the rack, to the prison, to the gibbet, to the stake; while the road of sin has often led a man to empire, to dominion, and to high esteem among his fellows. It is not true that in this world God does punish men for sin, and reward them for their good deeds. For, did not David say, "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree?" and did not this perplex the Psalmist for a little season, until he went into the sanctuary of God, and then he understood their end? Although your faith assures you that the ultimate result of providence will work out only good to the people of God, yet your life, though it be but a brief part of the Divine drama of history, must have taught you that providence does not outwardly discriminate between the righteous and the wicked--that the righteous perish suddenly as well as the wicked--that the plague knows no difference between the sinner and the saint--and that the sword of war is alike pitiless to the sons of God and the sons of Belial. When God sendeth forth the scourge, it slayeth suddenly the innocent as well as the perverse and froward. Now, my brethren, if your idea of an avenging and Awarding providence be not true, why should you talk as if it were? And why, if it be not correct as a general rule, should you suppose it to be true in this one particular instance? Get the idea out of your head, for the gospel of God never needs you to believe an untruth.
But, secondly, there is another reason. The idea that whenever an accident occurs we are to look upon it as a judgment from God would make the providence of God to be, instead of a great deep, a fiery shallow pool. Why, any child can understand the providence of God, if it be true that when there is a railway accident it is because people travel on a Sunday. I take any little child from the smallest infant-class form in the Sunday-school, and he will say, "Yes, I see that." But then, if such a thing be providence, if it be a providence that can be understood, manifestly it is not the Scriptural idea of providence, for in the Scripture we are always taught that God's providence is "a great deep;" and even Ezekiel, who had the wing of the cherubim and could fly aloft, when he saw the wheels which were the great picture of the providence of God, could only say the wheels were so high that they were terrible, and were full of eyes, so that he cried, "O wheel!" If--I repeat it to make it plain--if always a calamity were the result of some sin, providence would be as simple as that twice two made four; it would be one of the first lessons that a little child might learn. But Scripture teaches us that providence is a great depth in which the human intellect may swim and dive, but it can neither find a bottom nor a shore, and if you and I pretend that we can find out the reasons of providence, and twist the dispensations of God over our fingers, we only prove our folly, but we do not prove that we have begun to understand the ways of God. Why, look, sirs; suppose for a moment there were some great performance going on, and you should step in in the middle of it and see one actor upon the stage for a moment, and you should say, "Yes, I understand it," what a simpleton you would be! Do you not know that the great transactions of providence began near six thousand years ago? and you have only stepped into this world for thirty or forty years, and seen one actor on the stage, and you say you understand it. Tush! you do not; you have only begun to know. Only He knoweth the end from the beginning, only He understands what are the great results, and what is the great reason for which the world was made, and for which He permits both good and evil to occur. Think not that you know the ways of God; it is to degrade providence, and to bring God down to the level of men, when you pretend that you can understand these calamities and find out the secret designs of wisdom.
But next, do you not perceive that such an idea as this would encourage Phariseeism? These people who were crushed to death, or scalded, or destroyed under the wheels of railway carriages, were worse sinners than we are. Very well, then what good people we must be; what excellent examples of virtue! We do not such things as they, and therefore God makes all things smooth for us. Inasmuch as we here traveled some of us every day in the week, and yet have never been smashed to pieces, we may on this supposition rank ourselves with the favourites of Deity. And then, do not you see, brethren, our safety would be an argument for our being Christians?--our having traveled on a railway safely would be an argument that we were regenerate persons, yet I have never read in the Scriptures, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we have traveled from London to Brighton safely twice a day." I never found a verse which looked like this; and yet if it were true that the worst of sinners met with accidents, it would follow as a natural converse to that proposition, that those who do not meet with accidents must be very good people, and what Pharisaical notions we thus beget and foster. But I cannot indulge the fully for a moment. As I look for a moment upon the poor mangled bodies of those who have been so suddenly slain, my eyes find tears, but my heart does not boast, nor my lips accuse--far from me be the boastful cry, "God, I thank thee that I am not as these men are!" Nay, nay, nay, it is not the spirit of Christ, nor the spirit of Christianity. While we can thank God that we are preserved, yet we can say, "It is of thy mercy that we are not consumed," and we must ascribe it to his grace, and to his grace alone. But we cannot suppose that there was any betterness in us, why we should be kept alive with death so near. It is only because he hath had mercy, and been very long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that we should perish, but that we should come to repentance, that he has thus preserved us from going down to the grave, and kept us alive from death.
And then, will you allow me to remark, that the supposition against which I am earnestly contending, is a very cruel and unkind one. For if this were the case, that all persons who thus meet with their death in an extraordinary and terrible manner were greater sinners than the rest, would it not be a crushing blow to bereaved survivors, and is it not ungenerous on our part to indulge the idea unless we are compelled by unanswerable reasons to accept it as an awful truth? Now, I defy you to whisper it in the widow's ear. Go home to her and say, "Your husband was a worse sinner than the rest of men, therefore he died." You have not brutality enough for that. A little unconscious infant, which had never sinned, though, doubtless, an inheritor of Adam's fall, is found crushed amidst the debris of the accident. Now think for a moment, what would be the infamous consequence of the supposition, that those who perished were worse than others. You would have to make it out that this unconscious infant was a worse sinner than many in the dens of infamy whose lives are yet spared. Do you not perceive that the thing is radically false and I might perhaps show you the injustice of it best, by reminding you, that it may one day turn upon your own head. Let it be your own case that you should meet with sudden death in such a way are you willing to be adjudged to damnation on that account? Such an event may happen in the house of God. Let me recall to my own, and to your sorrowful recollection, what occurred when once we met together; I can say with a pure heart, we met for no object but to serve our God, and the minister had no aim in going to that place but that of gathering Tiffany to hear who otherwise would not have listened to his voice and yet there were funerals as the result of a holy effort (for holy effort still we avow it to have been, and the aftersmile of God hath proved it so). There were deaths, and deaths among God's people, I was about to say, I am glad it was with God's people rather than with others. A fearful fright took hold upon the congregation, and they fled, and do you not see that if accidents are to be viewed as judgments, then it is a fair inference that we were sinning in being there--an insinuation which our consciences repudiate with scorn? However, if that logic were true, it is as true against us as it is against others, and inasmuch as you would repel with indignation the accusation that any were grounded or hurt on account of sin, in being there to worship God, what you repel for yourself repel for others, and be no party to the accusation which is brought against those who have been destroyed during the last fortnight, that they perished on account of any great sin.
Here I anticipate the outcries of prudent and zealous persons who tremble for the ark of God, and would touch it with Uzzah's hand. "Well," says one, "but we ought not to talk like this, for it is a very serviceable superstition, because there are many people who will be kept from traveling on a Sunday by the accident, and we ought to tell them, therefore, that those who perished, perished because they traveled on Sunday." Brethren, I would not tell a lie to save a soul, and this would be telling lies, for it is not the fact I would do anything to stop Sunday labor and sin, but I would not forge a falsehood even to do that. They might have perished on a Monday as well as on a Sunday. God gives no special immunity any day of the week, and accidents may occur as well at one time as at another, and it is only a pious fraud when we seek thus to pray upon the superstition of men to make capital for Christ. The Roman Catholic priest might consistently use such an argument, but an honest Christian man, who believes that the religion of Christ can take care of itself without his telling falsehoods, scorns to do it. These men did not perish because they traveled on a Sunday. Witness the fact that others perished on the Monday when they were on an errand of mercy. I know not why or wherefore God sent the accident. God forbid that we should offer our own reason when God has not given us his reason, but we are not allowed to make the superstition of men an instrument for the advancing the glory of God. You know among Protestants there is a great deal of popery. I meet with people who uphold infant baptism on the plea, "Well, it is not doing any hurt, and there is a great deal of good meaning in it, and it may do good, and even confirmation may be blessed to some people, and therefore do not let us speak against it." I have nothing to do with whether the thing does hurt or not, all I have to do with is whether it is right, whether it is scriptural, whether it is true, and if the truth does mischief, which is a supposition we can by no means allow, that mischief will not lie at our door. We have nothing to do but to speak the truth, even though the heavens should fall, I say again, that any advancement of the gospel which is owing to the superstition of men is a false advance, and it will by-and-bye recoil upon the people who use such an unhallowed weapon. We have a religion which appeals to man's judgment and common sense, and when we cannot get on with that, I scorn that we should proceed by any other means; and, brethren, if there be any person who should harden his heart and say, "Well, I am as safe on one day as another," which is quite true, I must say to him, "The sin of your making such a use as this of a truth must lie at your own door, not at mine; but if I could keep you from violating the Christian's day of rest by putting before you a superstitious hypothesis, I would not do it, because I feel that though I might keep you from that one sin a little time, you would by-and-bye grow too intelligent to be duped by me, and then you would come to look upon me as a priest who had played upon your fears instead of appealing to your judgment." Oh! it is time for us to know that our Christianity is not a weak, shivering thing, that appeals to the petty superstitious fears of ignorant and darkened minds. It is a manly thing, loving the light, and needing no sanctified frauds for its defense. Yes, critic! turn thy lantern upon us, and let it glare into our very eyes; we are not afraid, truth is mighty and it can prevail, and if it cannot prevail in the daylight, we have no wish that the sun should set to give it an opportunity. I believe that very much infidelity has sprung from the very natural desire of some Christian people to make use of common mistakes. "Oh," they have said, "this popular error is a very good one, it keeps people right; let us perpetuate the mistake, for it evidently does good." And then, when the mistake has been found out, infidels here said, "Oh, you see now these Christian people are found out in their tricks." Let us have no tricks, brethren; let us not talk to men as though they were little children, and could be frightened by tales of ghosts and witches. The fact is, that this is not the time of retribution, and it is worse than idle for us to teach that it is do.
And now, lastly--and then I leave this point--do you not perceive that the un-Christian and un-Scriptural supposition that when men suddenly meet with death it is the result of sin, robs Christianity of one of its noblest arguments for the immortality of the soul? Brethren, we assert daily, with Scripture for our warrant, that God is just, and inasmuch as he is just, he must punish sin, and reward the righteous. Manifestly he does not do it in this world. I think I have plainly shown that in this world, one event happeneth to both; that the righteous man is poor as well as the wicked, and that he dies suddenly as well as the most graceless. Very well, then, the inference is natural and clear, that there most be a next world in which these things must be righted. If there be a God, he must be just; and if he be just, he must punish sin; and since he does not do it in this world, there therefore must be another state in which men shall receive the due reward of their works, and they that have sown to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, while they that have sown to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. Make this world the reaping place, and you have taken the sting out of sin. "Oh," says the sinner, "if the sorrows men endure here be all the punishment they will have, we will sin greedily." Say to there, "No; this is not the world of punishment, but the world of probation; it is not the court of justice, but the land of mercy; it is not the prison of terror, but the house of long-suffering;" and you have opened before their eyes the gates of the future; you have set the judgment-throne before their eyes; you have reminded them of "Come, ye blessed," and "Depart, ye cursed;" ye have a more reasonable, not to say a more Scriptural, ground of appeal to their consciences and to their hearts.
I have thus spoken with the view of putting down as much as I can the idea which is too current among the ungodly, that we as Christians hold every calamity to be a judgment. We do not; we do not believe that those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell were sinners above all the sinners that were in Jerusalem.
II. Now to our second point. WHAT USE, THEN, OUGHT WE TO MAKE OF THIS VOICE OF GOD AS HEARD AMIDST THE SHRIEKS AND GROANS OF DYING MEN? Two uses; first, inquiry, and secondly, warning.
The first inquiry we should put to ourselves is this: "Why may it not be my case that I may very soon and suddenly be cut off? Have I a lease of my life? Have I any special guardianship which ensures me that I shall not suddenly pass the portals of the tomb? Have I received a charter of longevity? Have I been covered with such a coat of armor that I am invulnerable to the arrows of death? Why am not I to die?" And the next question it should suggest is this: "Are not I as great a sinner as those who died? Are there not with me, even with me, sins against the Lord my God? If in outward sin others have exceeded me, are not the thoughts of my heart evil? Does not the same law which curses them curse me? I have not continued in all the things that are written in the book of the law to do them. It is as impossible that I should be saved by my works as that they should be. Am not I under the law as well as they by nature, and therefore am not I as well as they under the curse? That question should arise. Instead of thinking of their sins which would make me proud, I should think of my own which will make me humble. Instead of speculating upon their guilt, which is no business of mine, I should turn my eyes within and think upon my own transgression, for which I must personally answer before the Most High God." Then the next question is, "Have I repented of my sin? I need not be inquiring whether they have or not: have I? Since I am liable to the same calamity, am I prepared to meet it? Have I felt, through the Holy Spirit's convincing power, the blackness and depravity of my heart? Have I been led to confess before God that I deserve his wrath, and that his displeasure, if it light on me, will be my just due? Do I hate sin? Have I learned to abhor it? Have I, through the Holy Spirit, turned away from it as from a deadly poison, and do I seek now to honor Christ my Master? Am I washed in his blood? Do I bear his likeness? Do I reflect his character? Do I seek to live to his praise? For if not, I am in as great danger as they were, and may quite as suddenly be cut off, and then where am I? I will not ask where are they? And then, again, instead of prying into the future destiny of these unhappy men and women, how much better to inquire into our own destiny and our own state!
"What am I? my soul, awake,
And an impartial survey take."
Am I prepared to die? If now the gates of hell should be opened, shall I enter there? if now beneath me the wide jaws of death should gape, am I prepared with confidence to walk through the midst of them, fearing no evil, because God is with me? This is the proper use to make of these accidents; this is the wisest way to apply the judgments of God to our own selves and to our own condition. O sirs, God has spoken to every man in London during these last two weeks; he has spoken to me, he has spoken to you, men, women, and children. God's voice has rung out of the dark tunnel,--has spoken from the sunset and from the glaring bonfire round which lay the corpses of men and women, and he has said to you, "Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh." It is so spoken to you that I hope it may set you inquiring, "Am I prepared? am I ready? am I willing now to face my Judge, and hear the sentence pronounced upon my soul?"
When we have used it thus for inquiry, let me remind you that we ought to use it also for warning. "Ye shall all likewise perish." "No," says one, "not likewise. We shall not all be crushed, many of us will die in our beds. We shall not all be burned, many of us will tranquilly close our eyes." Ay, but the text says, "Ye shall all likewise perish." And let me remind you that some of you may perish in the same identical manner. You have no reason to believe that you may not also suddenly be cut off while walking the streets. You may fall dead while eating your meals--how many have perished with the staff of life in their hands! Ye shall be in your bed, and your bed shall suddenly be made your tomb. You shall be strong, hale, hearty, and in health, and either by an accident or by the stoppage of the circulation of your blood, you shall be suddenly hurried before your God Oh! may sudden death to you be sudden glory!
But it may happen with some of us that in the same sudden manner as others have died, so shall we. But lately in America, a brother, while preaching the Word, laid down his body and his charge at once. You remember the death of Dr. Beaumont, who, while proclaiming the gospel of Christ, closed his eyes to earth. And I remember the death of a minister in this country, who had but just given out the verse--
"Father, I long, I faint to see
The place of thine abode;
I'd leave thine earthly courts and flee
Up to thy house, my God,"
...when it pleased God to grant him the desire of his heart, and he appeared before the King in his beauty, then, may not such a sudden death as that happen to you and to me?
But it is quite certain that, let death come when it may, there are some few respects in which it will come to us in just the same manner as it has to those who have so lately been hurried away. First, it will come quite as surely. They could not, travel as fast as they would, escape from the pursuer. They could not journey where they may, from home or to home, escape the shaft when the time had come. And so shall we perish. Just as surely, as certainly as death has set his seal upon the corpses which are not covered with the sod, so certainly shall he set his seal on us (unless the Lord should come before), for "it is appointed unto all men once to die, and after death the judgment." There is no discharge in this way; there is no escape for any individual by any bye-path, there is no bridge over this river; there is no ferry-boat by which we may cross this Jordan dryshod. Into thy chill depths, O river, each one of us must descend, in thy cold stream, our blood must be frozen; and beneath thy foaming billows our head must sink! We, too, must surely die. "Trite," you say, "and commonplace" and death is commonplace, but it only happens once to us. God grant that that once dying may perpetually be in our minds, till we die daily, and find it not hard work to die at the last.
Well, then, as death comes both to them and to us surely, so will it come both to them and to us most potently and irresistibly. When death surprised them, then what help had they? A child's card house was not more easily crushed than these ponderous carriages. What could they do to help one another? They are sitting talking side by side. The scream is heard, and ere a second cry can be uttered, they are crushed and mangled. The husband may seek to extricate his wife, but heavy timbers have covered her body, he can only find at last her poor head, and she is dead, and he takes his sorrowful seat by her side, and puts his hand upon her brow, until it is stone cold, and though he has seen one and another plucked with broken bones from the midst of the ruined mass, he has to leave her body there. Alas! his children are motherless, and himself robbed of the partner of his bosom. They could not resist; they might do what they would, but as soon as the moment came, on they went, and death or broken bones was the result. So with you and me, bribe the physician with the largest fee, but he could not put fresh blood into your veins; pay him in masses of gold, but he could not make the pulse give another throb. Death, irresistible conqueror of men, there is none that can stand against thee, thy word is law, thy will is destiny! So shall it come to us as it did to them; it shall come with power, and none of us can resist.
When it came to them, it came instantly, and would not brook delay. So will it come to us. We may have longer notice than they, but when the hour has struck there shall be no postponing it. Gather up thy feet in thy bed, O Patriarch, for thou must die and not live! Give the last kiss to thy wife, thou veteran soldier of the cross put thy hands upon thy children's head, and give them the dying benediction, for all thy prayers cannot lengthen out thy life, and all thy tears cannot add a drop to the dry wellspring of thy being. Thou must go, the Master sendeth for thee, and he brooks no delay. Nay, though thy whole family should be ready to sacrifice their lives to buy thee but an hour of respite, it must not be. Though a nation should be a holocaust, a willing sacrifice, to give its sovereign another week in addition to his reign, yet it must not be. Though the whole flock should willingly consent to tread the dark vaults of the tomb, to let their pastor's life be spared but for another year, it must not be. Death will have no delay; the time is up, the clock has struck, the sand has run out, and as certainly as they died when their time was come, in the field by sudden accident, so certainly must we.
And then, again, let us remember that death will come to us as it did to them, with terrors. Not with the crash of broken timbers, perhaps, not with the darkness of the tunnel, not with the smoke and with the steam, not with the shrieks of women and the groans of dying men, but yet with terrors. For meet death where we may, if we be not in Christ, and if the shepherd's rod and staff do not comfort us, to die must be an awful and tremendous thing. Yes, in thy body, O sinner, with downy pillows beneath thy head, and a wife's tender arm to bear thee up, and a tender hand to wipe thy clammy sweat, thou will find it awful work to face the monster and feel his sting, and enter into his dread dominion. It is awful work at any time, and at every time, under the best and most propitious circumstances, for a man to die unprepared.
And now I would send you away with this one thought abiding on your memories; we are dying creatures, not living creatures, and we shall soon be gone. Perhaps, as here I stand, and rudely talk of these mysterious things, soon shall this hand be stretched, and dumb the mouth that lisps the faltering strain, power supreme, O everlasting King, come when thou mayest, oh! mayest thou ne'er intrude upon an ill-spent hour; but find me wrapped in meditation high, hymning my great Creator; doing works of mercy to the poor and needy ones, or bearing in my arms the poor and weary of the flock, or solacing the disconsolate, or blowing the blast of the gospel trumpet in the ears of deaf and perishing souls! Then come when thou wilt, if thou art with me in life, I shall not fear to meet thee in death but oh, let my soul be ready with her wedding-garment, with her lamp trimmed and her light burning, ready to see her Master and enter into the joy of her Lord? Souls, ye know the way of salvation, ye have heard it often, hear it yet again! "He that believeth on the Lord Jesus has everlasting life." "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned." "Believe thou with thy heart, and with thy mouth make confession." May the Holy Ghost give the grace to do both, and this done, thou mayest say,
"Come, death, and some celestial band, To bear my soul away!"
A sermon by John Piper:
Unless You Repent You Will All Likewise Perish
June 5, 1988
If this text were taking place today we would come to Jesus and say, "Did you hear about the miners last week who were buried 300 feet underground by an explosion north of Frankfurt, Germany?" And Jesus would look into our eyes like nobody has ever looked before, and he would say, "Do you think this happened to these miners because they were worse sinners than the other Germans? Or that bus load of church young people that were killed in Kentucky do you think that they were worse sinners than the other Americans who escape every day? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."
Have you ever had an encounter with anybody like that? You come to them with a concern or with a puzzling theological question, and they look you right in the eye and say, "The most urgent issue is your own soul. If you don't get right with God, you are going to perish." No one ever spoke like this man. He was always blood earnest about person commitment. When presented with a problem, he dealt with a person. His speech was salted with fire. Nobody slept through a conversation with Jesus.
These five verses are filled with awesome implications about the way the world really is. And it is not the way people think it is. My main aim today is to impress upon our consciences that people are perishing. If we are going to be the kind of witness for Christ that we ought to be we need to know and feel what is really at stake. And what is at stake is that unrepentant people are perishing.
To unfold this text I simply want to focus on four words in the key sentence in verses 3 and 5. The sentence is, "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish." The four words I want us to focus on are "all," "likewise," "perish," and "repent."
"Unless you repent you will ALL likewise perish." A group of people come to Jesus and tell him about how Pilate had murdered some worshiping Galileans and taken their blood and mixed it with the blood of their sacrifices == their sheep and pigeons and doves. It's as though some anarchists should break into our church this morning during the Lord's supper, cut the necks of a few worshippers and pour their blood into the communion cups. It was a horrible thing that Pilate did.
The people don't say it, but Jesus hears it in their voices == these slain Galileeans must have done something horrible for God to allow something so horrible to happen to them. In other words extraordinary tragedy must signify extraordinary guilt.
Now ponder for a moment what you would have answered at this point. What does your theology of suffering and sin call for in the face of this kind of tragedy?
What Jesus said was this. He said, "No, their sin was not extraordinarily horrible. It was ordinarily horrible, just like yours. And if you don't repent, you too will experience a horrible end, all of you." In other words in stead of saying that they are no more sinful than we are and being amazed at their death, he says that we are just as sinful as they are and should get ready to die like they did.
What Jesus teaches then is that all of us are extremely sinful. We are so sinful that calamities and disasters should not shock us as though something unwarranted were coming upon innocent human beings. There are no innocent human beings. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). There is none righteous, no not one" (Rom. 3:10). And what should amaze us in our sin is not that some are taken in calamity, but that we are spared and given another day to repent. The really amazing thing in this universe is not that guilty sinners perish, but that God is so slow to anger that you and I can sit here this morning and have one more chance to repent.
"Unless you repent you will all likewise perish." Does this mean that all unrepentant people will be murdered in the act of worship? No, it can't mean that because in verse 5 Jesus says that we will all perish like those who were killed by a falling tower. We can't all die just like the Galileans who were murdered and just like those on whom the tower of Siloam fell. "Likewise" must mean something else.
It can't just mean die, since that's going to happen to those who repent to. Everybody dies until Jesus comes again. But Jesus says implies that if we repent we will not perish.
So what does Jesus mean when he says that all unrepentant people will likewise perish. I think he means something like this: you see what a horrible end those people came to; they didn't think it was going to happen. O they knew they were going to die someday; but they didn't know what that would mean. The horror of their end took them by surprise. Well unless you repent that is the way it is going to be for you. Your end will be far more horrible than you think it is. You will not be ready for it. It will surprise you terribly. In that sense you will LIKEWISE perish.
The parallel between you and them is that there was something dreadful about the way they ended, and there will be something dreadful about the way your life ends. They were not expecting that kind of end and you will not be expecting it either (Luke 17:27-30). Only repentance can make you ready to meet God.
"Unless you repent you will all likewise PERISH." Now what does "perish" mean? Sometimes the word simply means die in the sense that we all will die physically. But that would not fit here since Jesus implies that if we repent we will not perish. "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish." If you DO repent, you won't perish. So perish is something more than simply die a physical death.
Here's what I think it means. Since Jesus connects it directly to sin and since he says it can be escaped by repentance, I take it to mean final judgment. He is referring to something beyond death. Those Galileans were taken unawares and experienced a horrible end. Unless you repent you too will be taken unawares and experience a horrible end == the judgment of God beyond the grave.
The word perish often refers to this terrible judgment in the New Testament. For example in John 3:16 it says, "For God so loved the world that whosoever believes on him shall not perish but have everlasting life." So perishing is the alternative to having everlasting life. The same thing turns up in John 10:28. Jesus says, "I give them eternal life, and they shall not perish for ever." Perishing is what happens to you if you don't have eternal life.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul says, "The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Perishing is the opposite of being saved by the cross of Jesus. And in 1 Corinthians 15:18 Paul says, "If Christ has not been raised . . . those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." In other words perishing is something that happens beyond the grave.
Hebrews 9:27 says, "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that comes judgment." And Jesus describes that judgment in Matthew 25 as a separation of the sheep from the goats, and says, "The one will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (v. 46). Perishing is the eternal punishment that people fall into when they die if they have not repented. That's how serious sin is. And we have all sinned, and sin every day. "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish."
Now don't treat this as mere church talk. Write it on a card and use a rubber band to bind it on the visor or your car. All those people out there will perish if they do not repent. Tape it in your wallet to see it every time you buy something == that clerk will perish if she does not repent. Your children will perish, you parents will perish, your neighbors will perish, your colleagues will perish if they do not repent. This is not irrelevant church talk. This is just as practical as the AIDS brochure we all got in the mail from Dr. Koop. And it is a thousand times for urgent and more important.
In fact let us learn from the surgeon general's office how the world expects people to respond to their fellow men when they know they are in danger of perishing. All you can lose when you get AIDS is your earthly life. And Jesus said "Do not fear what kills the body and after that can do nothing. Fear what can cast both soul and body into hell" (Luke 12:4-5). Sin is an infinitely more dangerous disease than AIDS. And if the world is willing to spend millions and millions of dollars to wake this country up to its danger of AIDS, how much more should we, who know the cure spend whatever it costs to wake this city up to the danger of sin! C. S. Lewis, the brilliant English scholar and Christian writer died the same day President John Kennedy did. This November will be the 25th anniversary of his death. Even today his books on the Christian faith are being reprinted by the thousands. One of the reasons I think God so greatly blessed the ministry of C. S. Lewis, and still blesses it, is that Lewis never hand an elitist, artsy love for fine literature or fine music or fine culture in any form, though he himself was a great artist. In his life everything is subordinate to the salvation of lost sinners.
I find what he says a tremendous inspiration to keep the perishing before our eyes as we do our work and pray how God would use us to reach wake them up. Listen to Lewis for the sake of your own ministry.
It is hardly possible for [us] to think too often or too deeply about [the glory] of our neighbor. . . It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization == these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit == immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. (The Weight of Glory, pp. 14f.)
So he says of his own scholarly discipline,
The Christian will take literature a little less seriously than the cultured Pagan. . . The Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world. (Christian Reflections, p. 10)
This tips us off to what C. S. Lewis' life was really devoted to. In 1952 and American liberal theologian criticized Lewis for using simple analogies to try to shed some light on the Trinity. Lewis' response was passionate and show where his heart really was in all his work.
Most of my books are evangelistic, addressed to [those outside]. I was writing to the people not to the clergy. Dr. Pittinger would be a more helpful critic if he advised a cure as well as asserting many diseases. How does he himself do such work? What methods, and with what success, does he employ when he is trying to convert the great mass of storekeepers, lawyers, realtors, morticians, policeman and artisans who surround him in his own city? (God in the Dock, pp. 181-3)
That was Lewis' burden as a literary scholar. I hope it is your burden whatever your profession. You have never talked to a mere mortal. They will all last for ever. And unless they repent, they will perish.
Luke gives us three illustrations of repentance in the face of judgment.
Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
The People of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. . . The king made proclamation . . . "let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands."
(After his death the unrepentant rich man is in torment. He asks Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers, so they don't perish in "this place of torment. But . . .)
Abraham said, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." And he said, "No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent." He said to him, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."
I conclude that repentance involves believing God (Jonah 3:5) rather than the Satan's claim that more joy can be found in sin than in obedience. It is a "being persuaded" about the danger of impenitence (Luke 16:31) and the way of escape through repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47). It involves grief over past sins and present sinful tendencies. This is the significance of the sackcloth and ashes (Luke 10:13; Jonah 3:5). And it involves turning from evil ways (Jonah 3:8).
So faith and repentance are not properly two separate things. The turning of repentance is a turning from trusting in other things to a trusting in God. And with a new trust in God as counselor and protector and provider there is also a turning to a new life of joyful obedience.