I was travelling on the South Yorkshire line, on my return from Lund Hill, soon after the fearful explosion there, when a gentleman put the following difficulty. He said, "How is it that a person may try his utmost to escape from sin, and still sin has the mastery, and he, of course, has no peace?" The following illustration may help to explain the difficulty.
On my first visit to Lund Hill Colliery, I called at several houses, and found in each widows and orphans, whose fathers and husbands were shut up in that burning pit; One, woman said, "My husband and two sons are in the pit." In another house I found four women — three had lost their husbands, and the fourth her brother. But when the widows and orphans assembled to hear the gospel, never did I see such a sight of sorrow. Amid such sorrow, there is a power in the name of Jesus that can be found in none other. The last of seventeen persons, who were got out alive before closing the pit, was there. I said to him, "Well, how did you feel as you lay at the bottom of the shaft?" He replied, "Oh, sir, I cannot describe my feelings, as I lay, half dead, suffocating and unable to stand." "Suppose you had heard some one at the top of the shaft shout down, and say, 'I have brought you good news: you must do the best you can to get out;' would that have made you happy?" "Oh no, sir; it would have been of no use at all. Get out? Why I had not strength to stand." "Then, after you had waited three hours and a half in that fearful place of death, how did you feel when those three valiant men descended to the very bottom where you lay, to seek the lost, the dead, the dying?" "Nobody can tell what I felt when the cage was going up for the last time, and I knew that if I was not put in it I could never get out; but they did lift me up, and put me in the cage, and I was drawn out at the top."
Here we have an illustration of the two gospels of our day. Man's gospel is, that he must do the best he can to get out of the pit of sin. He thinks his condition is not so bad, but that he can still do something to save himself. The gospel of God is the very contrary of this. The word of God plainly shows man's condition so utterly bad that he cannot help himself. Just as the gas at the bottom of the pit had stupefied the men, and taken away their strength, even so has sin stupefied all men, and taken away their strength. In proof of this, in Romans 5, God's love is commended, in that whilst men were "without strength," "whilst we were sinners," "ungodly," "when we were enemies," God did not send word, we were to do the best we could to get out of this condition. Oh, no! But just as the three men descended to save those poor, lost, dying men in the pit, so did God send His own most glorious Son to save lost sinners. "Yes, when we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." What a striking illustration this is! If you had seen that sight, when more than 200 poor men and boys were all deep down in that pit of fire-damp and death! Every effort was made to save them. It was enough to melt a heart of stone to hear the sobs and cries of the women and children. What an expression of the love of man for his fellow man, when those three men descended, at the risk of their own lives! And have you never read that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life?" And this was not at the risk of his own life, but with the certainty that nothing but the offering up of that precious life could atone for sin and save the soul. Now it is most certain that if those poor men were not got out they must perish. It was awful when the last man was out, to see the last ray of hope destroyed by the closing the mouth of the burning pit. God is sovereign — seventeen were taken out, and nearly 200 left in. Oh, if this solemn fact were but more thought of — God is sovereign. The whole world lies in darkness, sin, and death. Few are saved; many perish. Reader, are you one of the few, or one of the many? Do not be deceived. Do not think that you need not be alarmed; that when you begin to feel the pit too hot, you will then get out. Do not dream about getting out by ordinances, or by your own self-righteous works. You are too deep down. If you knew your condition, you would cry out this moment, "Lord, save, or I perish." This is a solemn thing, that unless Christ saves you, you must perish.
There was one poor man dreadfully burnt, and when they brought him to the cage, he mistook them for his enemies, and rushed back again to the dark works of the pit. They pursued him again, and caught him, and brought him again to the cage; and now you would have thought him safe; but again he rushed up the dark old works, and perished in the pit. What a lesson for a backslider! It is a sore grief to see a person, that one thought saved, go back again to the dark works of sin and death. Reader, if that is your case, what a fearful looking forward for judgment you have! I need not ask, Are you happy? Sin and happiness are eternal strangers.
But do not despair; if by reading this little paper God shews you your utterly dreadful, lost condition, let me tell you that for eighteen hundred years not a person has ever known his need of Christ, and trusted in Him, but that person has been saved. And if you really know your need, that you are an ungodly sinner, without strength to be better, you are just the one for Christ.
The last thing I would notice, and not the least, is, those who were saved from the pit were saved clean out at the top. They were not drawn half-way up, and then told to do their part; that it all depended on themselves whether they were finally saved. Some are told to work out their salvation, as though that meant that Christ had finished about one half of their salvation, and they had to do the other half. It is a great mistake. God's salvation is clean out at the top. No! no! not drawn half-way out of the pit; but the Christian gives "thanks unto the Father who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." Read that over again, will you?
The man I talked with was out of the pit. He knew he was. He did not hope to get out. If he had done so, that would have been a flat denial of the kindness of those who had got him out. They were drawn out together, the deliverer and the delivered. It is so with the believer and Christ. "God hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places, in Christ Jesus." Christ took my place in death for my sins; but God hath raised us up together; so that the believer is as clean out of sin and death as Christ is. My fellow-believer, there is just as much condemnation to Christ now at God's right hand, as there is to you in Him. Read the first and second chapters of the Ephesians, and the fifth and sixth of the Romans, and you will there see that the believer is as clear of sin and condemnation as Christ Himself is clear. O for more faith in the out-and-out salvation of God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.