Lectures to Young People
William B. Sprague, 1830
PERSUASIVE TO TRUE RELIGION
"Come, for all things are now ready!" Luke 14:17.
The parable of which these words are a part, was intended primarily to illustrate the sovereign grace of God in causing the gospel to be first preached to the Jews, their contemptuous rejection of it, and its being subsequently offered to the Gentiles. It is susceptible, however, of a much more extensive application; as containing a faithful description of the gracious conduct of God towards all to whom the gospel comes, on the one hand, and of the reception which it too often meets in every age, on the other.
The gospel is here represented under the similitude of a feast; and it is the business of Christ's ministers, as it was the business of the servants in the parable—to go abroad and publish the invitation. It is the design of this discourse to bring home this invitation to the hearts of the young; to endeavor to attract them by an exhibition of the grace of the gospel, to a compliance with its requisitions. Let every youth, then, who listens to this discourse, consider himself affectionately addressed in the language of the text—"Come, for all things are now ready!"
The text obviously suggests two topics:
The sufficiency of the gospel feast.
The invitation to the gospel feast.
Let us attend to them in their order.
I. The SUFFICIENCY of the gospel feast—"All things are now ready!"
This branch of the discourse may be illustrated by showing thatthe gospel makes provision for all the moral needs of man.
Particularly—it contemplates him as IGNORANT, and provides for his instruction. There are many truths connected with true religion, which God may be said to have inscribed on the works of his hands—truths which relate especially to his own existence, character, and government; and these, no doubt, it is within the province of a well-directed reason to trace in the contemplation of his works; but experience proves that even these truths, reflected as they are from every part of the creation, can yet be completely overlooked through the blinding influence of human depravity.
There are other truths, however, of vital importance to man, upon which the book of nature is entirely silent, and at which it were impossible for man to arrive in the most faithful use of his unassisted powers: these God has been pleased to make the subject of a written revelation; and that revelation we have in the gospel. In estimating the importance of the gospel as a fountain of knowledge, observe how great the advantage which it has over every other. Its truths are the most sublime that ever occupied, or ever can occupy, the mind of man; and the contemplation of them is fitted to exalt all his intellectual and moral faculties. They are also intimately blended with his own highest interests, both as it respects this world and the world to come; insomuch that God himself has declared that "he who believes" them "shall be saved, and he who believes" them "not, shall be damned."
And moreover, they come to us upon the authority of God; so that, in receiving them, we have the highest possible evidence that we are not embracing a system of error. Say now, where shall man repair for instruction—but to the gospel? Where else can he find truth so sublime, so important, so unmixed, as here? Let him read whatever has been written by the wise men of the world, whether in ancient or modern times; and after having wearied himself with the endless absurdities and contradictions into which they have fallen on the most momentous of all subjects, let him return to the gospel, and draw living water out of these wells of salvation. Here he will find everything simple, perspicuous, sublime—a field in which the noblest intellect may expatiate forever, and be continually advancing in its discoveries from glory to glory.
Again: The gospel contemplates man as GUILTY, and provides for his forgiveness. I know that it is possible for the voice of conscience to be drowned, in a great degree, amidst the strife and tumult of the world; and I doubt not that there is a point in depravity beyond which conscience becomes powerless in this life, even to warn the sinner of his approaching doom. But I know too that this principle of conscience makes part of every man's moral constitution; and that it intimates to everyone more or less distinctly, and more or less frequently, the fact that an eternal retribution awaits him; and that, in consequence of being a sinner, he is exposed to the displeasure of God. Does he ask reason whether it is possible that sin can be forgiven; and if so, through what channel forgiveness can be communicated? Ah, he has consulted reason on a point upon which she has nothing to say: and if she speaks, it is only to display her ignorance, or to confess it.
But let him resort to the gospel, and he will obtain a full solution of the momentous problem: here he will find it written by the finger of inspiration, that God can now "be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus;" that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish—but have everlasting life." Here is a plan revealed, to the wonder of angels as well as of men, by which Jehovah manifests himself at once the inflexible Judge, and the merciful Father. No matter though his iniquities may have risen mountain-like to the heavens; no matter though he may have been distinguished among the most obdurate transgressors, and may have persevered in his rebellion long after he had seemed ripe for the employments of fiends; yet his case is not so desperate—but that there is an efficacy in the blood of Christ to reach it. Whoever will comply with the requisitions which the gospel proposes, shall hear a voice from the sanctuary of God's grace, saying, "Be of good cheer, your sins be forgiven you!"
Farther: The gospel contemplates man as POLLUTED, and provides for his sanctification. Not more true is it that man is exposed to the curse of God's law, than that his nature is in ruins. He is laboring under a spiritual malady, which, unless it is arrested and removed, must prove fatal to the soul—a malady for which the wisdom of the world has long since proved itself inadequate to find out a cure. Here again, what reason could not do, the gospel has done. All the truths which it reveals, especially the great doctrine of redemption by the blood of Christ, are fitted to constrain, to exalt, to quicken the affections, and to bring the whole soul under a purifying influence. But this is not all. God is pleased to accompany the gospel with the direct influence of his Spirit; by which especially the rebellion of the heart is subdued, evil affections and desires are eradicated, old things pass away, and all things become new. And it is by this influence that the work of sanctification is not only begun in the soul—but carried forward until it is perfected in glory. Here then is a fountain open for sin and uncleanness—a complete remedy for the disease of man's moral nature.
I observe, once more, that the gospel contemplates man as subject to DEATH, and makes provision for his immortality. I do not say that reason is absolutely silent on the subject of a future existence; but I do say that, after reason has done her utmost to satisfy the anxious inquiries of nature on that subject, she has done comparatively little; and even that little has been rather in the way of vague conjecture, than positive demonstration. I do say that, with all the light that she can shed upon the valley of death, it must be, in every case, a dark valley still; and that he who takes her for his guide, must lay in his account for a hard conflict with doubt and terror, when flesh and heart are failing.
Approach the gospel now, and see what relief it has to render to the mind struggling with apprehension in the attempt to look beyond the grave. In the first place, it fully establishes the fact that the spirit lives after the body is dead. Then it goes farther, and opens up the prospect of an exact retribution; describing, so far as the subject falls within the comprehension of man, the miseries of the lost, and the happiness of the saved. And finally, it reveals the fact that the grave shall before long give up the dead that are in it; and that the righteous dead shall come forth clothed with a body that shall reflect the purity and luster of the heavens.
And what is death to the Christian, when contemplated in the view of truths like these? What but a passage—a rough and stormy passage, if you please—from a region of comparative darkness—to a region of perfect light; from a state of trial, and sin, and conflict—to a state of perfect holiness, to the possession of a crown of life! May not the believer look down into the grave with triumph, and even welcome the ravages of the death-worm, if this be only a refining process by which his body is to become fitted to bear an eternal weight of glory? Oh, yes, my young friends, the doctrine of immortality, the doctrine of the resurrection, is, to the Christian, like a star of life rising out of the shadows of the tomb. Fixing his eye upon it, well may he recline upon his Savior's bosom, and breathe his life out sweetly there!
I have now endeavored to show you that the gospel makes provision for all the moral needs of man; thus illustrating the sufficiency of the gospel feast.
II. Let me now, secondly, direct your attention to the INVITATION to the gospel feast—"Come!"
As the blessings which are offered in this feast are spiritual blessings, so the act by which they are received is a spiritual act—the act of faith. To come, therefore, in the sense of the text, denotes a cordial acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ in all the glories of his person, and in all the benefits of his purchase. But reserving this point for distinct consideration in a future discourse, let me, under this article, direct your attention to two inquiries:
1. To whom is this invitation addressed?
It is addressed to the skeptical youth. I am persuaded, my young friend, that if you have given up the gospel, you have not known what you have been doing; or if you indulge doubts in respect to its divine authority, you do so only because you have not been willing to submit to an examination of its evidence. And though you are afar off, I earnestly call upon you to retrace your steps, and to receive not only with the understanding—but the heart, this gospel which you seem inclined to put away from you. So long as you retain your present ground, if the gospel be true, you cannot doubt that your case is hopeless; and you surely ought not to presume that it is not true—but upon evidence entirely unexceptionable.
Come, then, and see whether it be not true. Come and subject its claims to divinity to as severe a test as you will; and if you do it with an honest heart, I doubt not that the result will be that you will give all your skepticism to the winds. Come and examine its doctrines, and see whether they are not consistent, sublime, adapted in every way to the moral needs of man. And while you open your understanding to the light of truth, yield your heart to its purifying influence; and then all the rich provision which the gospel offers shall become yours. Yes, though you have been so ungrateful as to question its divinity, and to cavil about its truths, you are invited to return and partake of the waters of life as freely as if you had never turned your back upon them.
But this invitation is addressed also to the profligate youth. Notwithstanding you are young, you have already ventured into the way of the ungodly, and perhaps have even sat in the seat of the scorner, and possibly may have sunk to a point in profligacy, at which you have become reckless even of the woes of perdition. And if, at any time, the startling thought of a retribution rises in your mind, and you are forced, for a moment, to realize that there is a just God in heaven, and that you have within you an immortal spirit, which, if unrenewed, is destined to fall under his consuming wrath, not improbably you take refuge from your reflections in the imagined hopelessness of your condition; taking for granted that you must remain where you are, and resolving to make yourself easy as long as possible. I would belie my own convictions if I should say that, in such a case, judging from analogy, there is strong ground of hope for a radical change of character; but I would certainly be lacking to my duty as a minister of Christ, if I should not proclaim even to such a wanderer from God and Heaven, that "the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin;" if I would not sound in his ears the gracious invitation, and the gracious encouragement, "Come, for all things are now ready!" Stop, profligate youth, and retrace the steps you have taken in the path to death. Exchange the polluted, groveling pleasures you are pursuing, for the pure and elevated joys of a life of piety. Come and accept the provision which the gospel offers; and "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;" though your name may have stood first on the list of despisers of God, it shall be transferred to a place in the Lamb's book of life!
To the mere moral youth, this invitation is also addressed. In the providence of God, you have been preserved from casting off the restraints of a pious education; and have neither been entangled by the arts of skepticism, nor allured into the haunts of profligacy. You have always maintained a decent respect for divine institutions; and have chosen to be regarded, and actually have been, a well-wisher to the general interests of true religion. But farther than this you have never advanced; and for some reason or other, you seem as well satisfied with your present condition, as if you had actually entered in at the straight gate, and had even made your calling and election sure.
It may be that you are building a fabric of self-righteousness, which looks beautiful to you, and which you imagine will attract the complacent regards of God. Believe me, you are yielding to delusion; and I call upon you to abandon the delusion, and to come without delay to the fountain of salvation which is opened in the gospel. A life of mere morality may indeed subserve the social interests of man in this life; but it can never confer the consolations of a good hope through grace: it can never cause you to understand the joy of dwelling in the secret place of the Most High: it can never furnish a staff to the soul in its passage through the dark valley: it can never bring in its train an inheritance that is incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away.
While, therefore, you place a proper estimate upon it, as it stands connected with the interests of the present world, dare not, for a moment, to rest upon it, as a foundation of acceptance with God. Come and exercise a living faith in the great Redeemer; and the morality which is the fruit of that faith, though it can never constitute the ground of your acceptance, may constitute the evidence of it. Come without delay; come now in the morning of life, else you may soon have formed a confirmed habit of self-righteousness; and such a habit once formed, is less likely than almost any other to be broken up; and unless it is broken up, it will as effectually and as certainly destroy you as infidelity or immorality.
The other inquiry to which I proposed to direct your attention under this article, is,
2. From whom does this invitation come?
It comes from the church on earth. It is the most ardent wish of God's people, and especially of your Christian friends, that you should enter without delay on a life of true religion. They follow you into the world with an eye of watchful and tender regard; and when you think not of it, they are often sending up prayers for you in secret, that you may be found in the way of God's commandments. When your pious parents see you immersed in worldly vanities, asking no questions with so much interest as "how you shall decorate your body, or how you shall recommend yourselves most to the mirthful and worldly," their hearts often sink within them; and especially, if they are about to depart into eternity, and leave you with such dispositions, it adds a bitter pang to the scene of separation; and they wish to cling to life yet a little longer, that they may offer a few more prayers, and use a few more exertions, for the everlasting interests of their children.
And not only your parents and other pious friends—but the church among whom your lot is cast, are, as a body, interested for your conversion, and are anxiously waiting to see you come out from an ungodly world, and subscribe with your own hand to the Lord. They tell you that there is room enough within their sacred enclosure for all of you, and for as many as will enter; and they stand ready to greet you with a joyful welcome at the table of communion, and to take you by the hand, as fellow-travelers on the way to heaven. Yes, and others whom you have never seen, even the people of God who dwell in distant lands, and in the islands of the sea—the whole church militant, may be considered as sending you an invitation, to join their community and partake of their joys.
From the redeemed in glory, the same invitation comes to you. They know what it is to have been sinners, and what it is to have been saved; and the benevolence of their glorified nature leads them to regard with intense interest, the salvation of sinners on earth. And is it not reasonable to suppose that this is especially true in respect to those with whom they have here been associated in the endearing relations of life? Everyone of the innumerable throng of the redeemed calls upon you to come; but there are those in that blessed assembly, who call with peculiar affection and earnestness, and who plead with you by the remembrance of other days, who would raise the loudest note of thanksgiving on your return to God, and would be the first to greet you on your arrival in heaven.
Is there no child in this assembly, who once had a mother who counseled him, and instructed him, and prayed for him, and finally died, leaving him asleep over the interests of his soul? That mother, we doubt not, is, at this moment, a glorified spirit, and is casting her crown at the Redeemer's feet, mingling in the hosannas and hallelujahs of heaven. But do you think that she has forgotten her child, because she has reached her destined home? My young friend, whoever you are, that glorified parent remembers you still; and from the third heaven, bids you form and execute the purpose of giving your heart to God; and invites you to prepare to mingle with her in the glories to which she has already been admitted.
I am aware that this is a subject on which it becomes us to speak with caution, because we know but little; but I am sure it is conformable to the dictates of reason, and according to the analogy of experience, and certainly not contrary to the spirit of God's word, that the news of such a conversion as I have supposed, would, in some way or other, be conveyed to heaven, and would cause the grateful exclamation to burst from the lips of that glorified parent. "This my child who was dead, is alive again; who was lost, is found; who seemed ripe for the employments of hell, is destined to sit on one of these thrones of glory forever and ever."
The angels of light echo the same invitation. Our Savior has taught us explicitly, that there is joy among the angels, when one sinner repents: of course, they desire that there may be occasions for this joy. They do not indeed know by experience the misery of being sinners: they have never felt the burden of pollution, the agony of remorse, the fearful apprehension of God's eternal wrath: but still they are not ignorant of the degradation and ruin that sin brings in its train; and they earnestly desire to see the heir of hell changed into the heir of heaven; not only because this change secures to the sinner everlasting life—but because it reflects a new luster on Christ's mediation, and brings a revenue of glory to God in the highest. They are ministering spirits to the righteous; and they offer themselves, on condition of your repentance, to be ministering spirits to you; to watch over you in danger, to succor you in temptation, to stand by you in death, and to conduct you to glory. Yes, unworthy as you are, ignorant, guilty, polluted as you are, the angels do not regard you as beneath their notice: they bid you arise and come away from these polluted joys, and dress yourself in the robes of the Redeemer's righteousness, that you may be found worthy at last to join their communion.
And above all, JEHOVAH himself sends you this invitation—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Against the Father of all mercies, your conduct hitherto has been a course of the most inexcusable rebellion. Nevertheless, he waits to be gracious; and he declares himself ready to forgive all your iniquities, and to sanctify you from all your pollution. He beholds you at a distance, wandering, prodigal children, and in the fullness of his compassion, bids you return to your Father's house, and opens the store-house of his everlasting bounty, to allure you away from the husks of worldly vanity and pleasure. He declares himself ready, on your return, to adopt you as his children; to confer upon you the spirit and the privileges of children; and as a proof of his sincerity, he points you to the cross on which the blessings of redemption were purchased, and solemnly asks, whether he who spared not his own Son—but gave him to die for your sakes, shall not with him also, provided you receive him as your Savior, freely give you all things? And is it so, that the great God, from the throne of his glory, condescends to expostulate with you to accept of his salvation? Who of you will dare to trifle with such amazing condescension, by delaying your acceptance of it for a single hour?
Jesus Christ, the Savior of the lost, also invites you. The invitation in the text was originally uttered by him; and it was left on record for your benefit and acceptance.
It is echoed from the manger in which he was born; from the scenes of poverty and suffering in which he had not where to lay his head; from the garden in which he endured his agony; from the cross on which he yielded up his life; from the tomb in which his body was laid; and it is echoed still, amid the intercessions which he presents in behalf of his people before the throne of the eternal Majesty. Yes, my young friends, it is not only the suffering and dying—but the glorified and reigning Savior, who sends you this invitation: by his bloody baptism on the one hand, and by the glories of his exaltation on the other, he condescends to plead with you to attend to your immortal interests. I bring you the invitation in his name; and if you turn away from it with cold and scornful indifference, I ask you "what evil has He done," that he should receive such treatment at your hand; and I ask again, "how" will you "escape, if you neglect so great salvation?"
From the Spirit of grace, also, this invitation comes to you. Open your bible, and wherever you find the invitation recorded, it is the Spirit of God who speaks in it. And it is the same divine agent, communicating the same gracious invitation, in the dispensations of providence, in scenes of affliction, in the operations of conscience, and under the preaching of the word. Recur, for a moment, my young friend, to your past experience. When you stood by the grave of your father, or mother, or some other near friend, and felt your heart throb at the reflection that that friend would slumber on in that dark abode for ages, did not something whisper in your ear a lesson concerning the uncertainty of the world, and the importance of true religion? Believe me, in that dispensation, the Spirit was inviting you to become a partaker of heavenly joys. When sickness had withered your energies, and death seemed to stare you in the face, and you thought with horror of the world of retribution, did not the fearful question come up with an interest of which you had never before conceived—"What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" I tell you, there again, the Spirit of God was admonishing you to take off your affections from this shadowy world, and seek superior bliss.
When the truth of God has been proclaimed in your hearing with pungency and power, has it not sometimes come home to your heart with strong impression, and made the interests of eternity appear, for a moment, to be all in all? That moment, rely on it, the Holy Spirit was saying unto you, "Come, for all things are now ready." And how has this invitation, conveyed to you through these various channels, been treated? Ah, I appeal to you, whether, when you had put off the weeds of mourning with which the death of your friend had covered you, you did not forget the monitory call to which perhaps you thought you would attend: or whether, when you were raised up from the bed of sickness, you did not leave all your serious impressions behind you, and come rushing back upon the vanities and gaieties of life: or whether, when you passed out at yonder door, after being affected by some melting exhibition of divine truth, you did not fall into some trifling conversation with some mirthful companion, and thus put your conscience into as profound a slumber as ever? In either of these cases, my young friend, you turned a deaf ear, you absolutely rejected the Spirit's invitation. I charge you, as you value your immortal soul, never to repeat the fearful experiment.
Behold then, who they are that are interested for your salvation, and are urging you to secure it! The church on earth, and the church in heaven; the angels of light, and God over all blessed forever; unitedly send you an invitation this day, to come and take the waters of life freely. If you refuse and finally perish, wonder not if you should hereafter hear them unitedly shouting "Hallelujah!" as the smoke of your torment ascends up forever and ever!
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