I had a long conversation the other day with a butcher, on the rail to Derby, on the reason why men smoke and drink. This led us to the subject of the bitter misery that sin produces, even in this life; and the various attempts that men make to smother conscience, and drown sorrow. The butcher had just lost his wife, was left with two little children, had passed through some trouble of conscience; but, what was worse, he often took too much drink. In short, we were both agreed that one great reason why men drink is the misery and burthen of sin. He owned it was a wretched thing thus to go on from sin to sin; and that solemn word of God sounded heavy in his ears, "The drunkard shall not inherit the kingdom of God." I found him much interested in the things of religion, and wishful to converse upon them. I found he purposed, at some future time, to make a firm resolution to cast off his sins, and become religious. Alas! how many are now in hell who once had the same intention as this butcher! He evidently thought a little striving of his own, at any time, would do all that is required.
"Well, now," said I, "man is certainly in a wretched condition through sin; but how do you think he is to get saved from this guilt and misery?" "Well, you know," said the butcher, "it will not do for a man to go on in his sins until he dies, will it? He must strive hard to give up all his bad ways, and live to God." I replied, "He will never save himself by his striving in that way." "What!" said he, "do you mean to say a man must not strive?" "As long as he does strive in that way," said I, "he is a rejecter of Christ." I saw the poor man was evidently trusting in his future strivings. "Explain yourself," said he: "whatever do you mean? — A man striving is a man rejecting the gospel of Christ! What can you mean?"
I replied, "I will illustrate what I mean. Suppose you have gone on in sin and drunkenness, until you have brought your family to starvation; you have not a farthing to buy them food, and you are too ill to make the least effort; when a friend comes to your house, spreads your table with plenty, and begs you to eat. If, then, you say, 'No, I must strive to got food myself,' would not you be rejecting the kindness of your friend? And would not this rejection of his love continue as long as ever you continue your striving? And is it not so with the lost sinner? Man is so bad, that he really does go on sinning until he dies. Is he not as helpless as the starving man? God has come to his rescue — God has given His own Son to meet his deepest need as a lost sinner, by the death of the cross. He died to deliver us, because we could not possibly save ourselves. God, the Friend above all friends, has come in Christ to our house of wretchedness and sin; and He, in pure love and pity, has spread the table of salvation — all things are ready. Oh! it is God that beseeches poor dying sinners to eat the bread of life spread before them. 'Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you, in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.' The kindness of God to perishing sinners has now been shown by the death of Jesus. Now pardon and deliverance are preached through Him. Surely, then, the longer I strive to save myself, the longer I reject the kindness of the God of all love."
The man's countenance fell; his last prop, he felt, was being taken from under him; his heart rose in rebellion against the free grace of God. If he could but have had the honour of a little striving, as a merit, to bring to God, he would have been well pleased. But to bow to God meeting him through the finished work of Christ, in pure, undeserved pity and love, this he would not do. He now tried to ridicule me, "Perhaps," said he, "you are not so good as you pretend, to be." "You very much mistake me," said I, "if you suppose I pretend to be good. No, I put myself along with you; I say we are both sinners; only I feel I am a greater sinner than you, because I know more about my own sins than I do about yours. But this is the difference between us — I have been brought, like the famished man, to receive Christ, the salvation of God. I can assure you it is through His blood alone I am pardoned and washed. I have nothing else before God. It is His life from the dead, that is my life. It is not in myself I boast, but in Christ. Jesus the Lord." "I have had enough," said he; "I will hear no more." A young man to my right, who had been deeply interested in the conversation, put forth his head, and said, "Will you tell me that illustration again?" I repeated to him again the parable of a friend going to the famishing household, as an illustration of the work of Christ for perishing sinners. I showed him it was not that we had to do one thing for God — it was not even that we had to present the sacrifice of Christ to God, and believe, until God would save us, as though there were any virtue or merit in our so presenting it. No, salvation was entirely from God; like the poor man's dinner, which was entirely from the friend. That it was God who had provided that great propitiation for sin, the sacrifice of Christ — that it is God who meets the sinner in his deepest wretchedness and helplessness — that the moment I believe, and receive the kindness of God, I am saved. That young man's face now lit up with joy — it was the joy of a new-born child of God. God had, during the repeating of those words, met his weary, anxious soul, and spoken peace, through the finished work of His own Son. To the one, the precious gospel had proved the savour of death unto death; to the other of life unto life. I found the Lord had been preparing him for three months for this message of mercy and love. Ah, there is often a striving and a struggling before the heart is made to really give up all hopes in self, and accept Christ as its entire salvation. This is the work of God by the Holy Ghost.
My reader may perhaps say, "Well, after all, I intend myself, some day, to strive hard to give up all my hateful sins, and serve and love God with all my heart — would it not be right to do so?" Oh, yes, certainly it would. But have you not tried to do so, and failed? and may you mot continue to fail until it is too late, and you are lost?
Perhaps you may say again, is not that what Christ meant, when He said, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate?" No; certainly He could not by that striving mean self-righteousness. He was speaking to the self-righteous Jews; nay, it was their very self-righteousness that made it so difficult to enter the "strait gate." Surely the death of Christ is too strait a gate or door to admit one particle of self-righteousness. His own sheep, even amongst or in the Jewish fold, had to be led out through that door: and no sinner on earth can be saved in any other way than through the death, burial, and resurrection of Him who is the door — of Him who gave His life for the sheep.
God grant that many of my readers may be thus stripped of all pretensions to self-righteousness, and self-striving, and self-dependence, and self-intentions, and own themselves so utterly, hopelessly bad, that God has well met their deep need, by the death of His adorable Son. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."