"What do you think you have to do to get your sins forgiven?" I have very often put this question to my fellow-passengers, and I nearly always get in substance the same answer. I was travelling the other day with a farm servant, on my way to London, when the following short conversation took place. "Well," I said, "I suppose you have some desire at times to be saved?" "Yes, sir, I have at times." "Then you would not like the thought of being lost for ever — would you?" "I should not," was the reply. "No; however light a man may make of it in health, it is a sad sight to see a man die with the terror of hell upon him. Well, now, what do you think you have to do to get your sins forgiven?" The young man replied, "To give them up." "That is a very common answer," said I, "and at first sight seems a very true one: but then you have tried to give them up, and you have found you could not; and you have tried again, and again you could not give up sin." "When did I try?" "Oh, often: when you were ploughing or driving your horses, have you not wished you could give up all sin, and be a saved man?" "Yes, it's true."
Reader, is it not true that you too have wished and tried, and wished and tried in vain? How is it, think you? It is the most serious question that can occupy your thoughts — Are you quite sure that this trying to give up sin, this making resolutions and breaking them, until you almost despair of ever getting saved — are you quite sure that this is God's way of saving a sinner? You may have given up some sin or sins; but still the fountain, your very heart, is corrupt, and out of it still flows the most hateful sin; for if one channel has been stopped, it finds another; and you are hasting on to eternity, and still not saved. I ask, Are your sins pardoned? Your conscience answers, No! Are you justified? No! Are you prepared to meet God? No! Are you certain to be with God in heaven? No! You may have every earthly comfort, but to-morrow you die — without hope! Fearful, fearful state! What will it profit you to gain the whole world, and lose your own soul?
But I think I hear you saying, "What can you mean? Is not this the gospel of God, 'If the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby?'" No, my friend, that is not the gospel at all. It is the law, by the which if a man can be saved, Christ died in vain. Do you say, "What then must I do? Can I go to heaven in my sins?" No, my friend, that you certainly cannot. "There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie." "But the fearful and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
How awful the fact that every one of us is described in this verse. Yes, born in this very condition, and held fast prisoners by the devil, the god of this world — so fast that, however you, my reader, may desire to deliver yourself from the power of sin, you cannot. Every effort is utterly vain. I believe that such is the awful dominion that sin has over man, that if all the men in the world, and all the angels in heaven, were to unite to deliver one soul from the power of sin and Satan, they could not do it. I think I hear you saying, "If that's the case, I must have been dreaming. I thought a man could repent at any time, and give up his sins, and then God would forgive him; and so I have not been particularly troubled about it. I have thought there is time enough yet." My reader, if this is your thought, you could not well be under a greater mistake. How awful if you should go on in this fatal delusion until the door is shut, and you are lost! Now, come, try your plan. Try to repent — try to give up all your sins — try to love God with all your heart — try to keep His holy law. The effort, sincerely made, will soon convince you of your hopelessly sinful state; but even if you could succeed in such all effort, there would still be the fearful weight of past sins. No amount of bitter remorse could uncle, or wipe away, one past sin. Judas is a solemn beacon as to this; he tried this way; but he found it the way to hell. Sorrow for sin is but a very small part of true repentance. Your mind must be entirely turned from sin to God. There is but one only way by which this can be done. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." To repent before you believe would be as if the bitten Israelite had to be healed before he looked at the brazen serpent. No, no. Faith in the love of God, as seen in the death of Jesus, alone can produce true repentance. The moment I believe in Jesus, my mind must be changed toward God. If you have been brought to look at Jesus lifted up on the cross, dying for your sins, and now lifted up to the highest glory — if He is your entire trust — you are, and shall be, certainly saved. "For through him is preached the forgiveness of sins; and all that believe are justified from all things." But if you have not looked, and do not thus look, on Jesus lifted up — if you are trusting in anything else — you are as certain, should you die in this state, to perish, as though you were just now in hell.
Do not deceive yourself any longer. If your sins are not pardoned, why should you put on a smiling face, as if you were happy? You are not — you cannot be. Nothing in this world has yet made, nor ever can make, you happy. God so loved the world as to give His beloved Son to die the death of the cross, and what for? To make His very enemies happy for ever. And the world is trying its utmost to be happy without Christ. Is this your case, my follow-passenger? May God in mercy stop you, just now as you read. How little idea you have of the terrible wickedness of your life, if you are thus despising and trampling underfoot the Son of God. Do you ask, "What must I do to get my sins pardoned?" Just what the insurgent troops in India would have to do if a general pardon were proclaimed — believe it.* "The blood of Jesus, Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin." "Through him is preached the forgiveness of sins." Believe it — believe it.
* [Written in the XIXth century]
Dear reader, one word, in conclusion, as to the question, "What must I do to get my sins pardoned?" Until you give up those words, "What must I do?" they prove that you have not yet felt the real necessity for the death of Christ. It is not, "What must I do?" but "What has Jesus done?" And what does God say? The believer hears God speak to him in His word: "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
All! all! has been done! done by the Son of God! "It is finished." Look at the cross. Behold the dying Lamb of God. See what was done by Him, and to Him. All this was done that every poor sinner who believes in Him might have his sins forgiven. Blush, then, to ask, "What must I do?" Instead of vainly trying to do, may you, my reader, by the power of the Holy Ghost, be led to "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."