© Copyright 2006 by Tony Capoccia. This updated file may be freely copied, printed out, and distributed as long as copyright and source statements remain intact, and that it is not sold. All rights reserved.
Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, ©1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
This sermon, preached by Tony Capoccia, is now available on Audio CD: www.gospelgems.com
The True Aim of Preaching
Mid to Late 1800’s
C. H. Spurgeon
"Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the
forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you”—Acts 13:38
Paul’s mode of preaching, as illustrated by this chapter, was first of all to appeal to the understanding with a clear exposition of doctrinal truth, and then to impress that truth, upon the emotions of his hearers with earnest and forcible exhortations. This is an excellent model for all preachers and evangelists. They must not give exhortation without doctrine, for, if so, they will be like men who are content with “blanks” in their guns, they will have the smoke and the noise but no power. It is the doctrine we preach, the bullet we deliver, which God will make a power to bless men and women. However intense and zealous we may be in speaking, if we don’t have something weighty and solid to say, we will appear to be intense about nothing, and will not be at all likely to create a lasting impression. Paul, if you notice, through this chapter, first of all gives the history of redemption, tells the story of the cross, insists upon the resurrection of the Savior, and then he comes to the end of his message and deals personally with their souls, and commands them not to neglect this great salvation.
At the same time, it was not all doctrine and no exhortation, for whenever Paul finished his message, he made a strenuous, pointed, and personal appeal to those who had listened to him. Let those preachers who are passionately fond of mere doctrine, but having little of the spirit of divine mercy or the milk of human kindness in their souls, those who do not care to have the Word pressed upon the consciences of men and women, stand rebuked by the example of the apostle Paul. Paul knew well that even truth itself will be powerless unless it is applied. Like the seed in the basket, it can produce no harvest until it is sown in the ground. We cannot expect that men and women will come and make an application of the truth to themselves. We must, having our heart glowing, and our souls on fire with love to them, seek to bring the truth to them, to impress it upon their hearts and consciences, as in the sight of God and to the glory of Christ.
The subject to which Paul drew attention, the target at which he was shooting his arrows, was forgiveness of sins through the man Christ Jesus. That is my subject this morning; and when I have spoken upon it briefly, I will then have a few words to say about his audience, and what became of them.
I. PAUL’S SUBJECT was matchless — the subject of subjects — the great master-doctrine of the Christian ministry: “That through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”
“The forgiveness of sins” is a topic which will be more or less interesting to every listener here today in proportion as they feel that they have committed sins, the guilt of which appalls their conscience. To those of you who fold your arms, and say, “We have done no wrong either to God or man,” I have nothing to say. You don’t need a physician, for you are not sick. You, evidently, would not be thankful for the heavenly eye-salve, for you are not blind. The wealth that Christ can bring you will not induce you to bow the knee to him, for you already think that you are rich and have acquired wealth and do not need a thing [Revelation 3:17]. But I am quite sure to have the attention of the person whose sins have been a burden to them. If there is any one here today who wants to be reconciled to God, who can say with the prodigal son, “I will set out and go back to my father” [Luke 15:18], then let them listen to what I have to say, for the theme itself will be sure to grab the attention of the person, who says in their hearts,
“How can I get my sins forgiven?
How can I find my way to Heaven?”
While we attempt to tell them that, we will ensure their utmost attention. This is our aim; and this will we do if God permits.
The Christian preacher tells men and women the underlying condition to receive a pardon, the exclusive method by which God will pardon sin. “Through Jesus,” says the text; that is to say, God will pardon, but he will only pardon in one way — through his Son Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus has a monopoly of mercy. If you will depend upon the mercy of God apart from Christ, you will find that you have depended upon a reed, and built your house upon the sand. Into the one silver pipe of the atoning sacrifice God has made to flow the full current of pardoning grace. If you will not go to that, you may be tempted by the mirage and try to drink fully of grace there, but you will die disappointed. You must die, unless you come for salvation, to Christ. What does Jesus say of himself? He says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” [John 10:9]. “Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” [John 3:18] “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” [Mark 16:16]. These are the very words of Christ, not mine. Whoever believes will be saved, “but whoever does not believe will be” — what? Pardoned for his unbelief? No; they “will be condemned” There is no other alternative. The expression might seem harsh if I were the inventor of it; but it came from the very lips of Christ, who was the gentlest, meekest, and most tender of men, “Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” God offers mercy to men and women, but he has chosen to offer it in only one channel — through that God-man who died for sinners, the Just for the unjust, that, he might bring them to God.
For this reason forgiveness comes to us alone through Jesus Christ. The whole method of redemption supplies us with an answer. The man Christ Jesus is a Divine Person. He is the Son of God. You will never doubt that reconciliation is an effect of infinite wisdom when you once clearly understand the condition that made it essential. Even though Christ’s people were objects of God’s everlasting love, their sins had kindled his fierce anger, as it were an unquenchable fire. Inasmuch as God is just, he must by the necessity of his nature punish sin. Yet he willed to have mercy on sinful men and women. Therefore it was the reason that Christ came into this world. Being God, he was made man for our sakes. He suffered the wrath of God that we, the offending sinners, ought to have suffered. God exacted from the man Christ Jesus that which he must otherwise have exacted from us. Upon the dear faithful head of Christ was laid the curse; upon his bare back fell the scourge that should have tortured our souls throughout eternity; those hands of his, when nailed to the cross, felt the excruciating agony that should have been ours; that heart bled with our bleeding. “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” [Isaiah 53:5] “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” [Isaiah 53:4]
Substitution, then, is the cause of it all. God will forgive sin because the sin which he forgives has been already atoned for by the sufferings of his dear Son.
You know, many of you, the story, in old Roman history, of the young soldier who had disobeyed the orders of the officers over him, and was condemned to die. But his elder brother, a noble and decorated old soldier, who had often been on the front lines in the battles of his country, came and exposed his chest, and showed his many scars, and exhibited his old uniform covered with the insignias, and honors of his victories, and he said, “I cannot ask for my brother’s life on account of anything good that he has ever done; he deserves to die, I know, but I set my scars and my wounds before you as the price of his life, and I ask you whether you will not spare him for his brother’s sake;” and with applause, it was decided that for his brother’s sake he should live.
Sinner, this is what Christ, does for you. He points to his scars, he pleads before the throne of God, “I have suffered the vengeance due to sin; I have honored your righteous law; for my sake have mercy upon these unworthy brothers and sisters of mine!” In this way, and in no other way, is forgiveness of sins preached to you through this man Christ Jesus.
It is our business also to preach to you the instrument through which you may obtain this pardon.
I can read the question in your anxious eyes, you are asking, “I can understand that Christ, having stood as a Substitute, has received from God, the power to pardon human souls, but how can I obtain the pardon, how can I draw near to him?”
Have you never read what Moses said about the righteousness of faith, and Paul endorsed his description, “The righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) "or 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” [Romans 10:6-7] But rather, it says, “The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the Word of faith we are proclaiming” [Romans 10:8].
You have no need to go home to your closet to talk with Christ. You have no need even to come here to find him. He is accessible at every hour, and in every place — the ever-present Son of God. “But what is the way that I am suppose to come to him?” says one. Oh! you don’t need to mutilate or torture your body: you don’t need to afflict your soul; you don’t need to bring your gold and silver; you don’t even need to shed tears. All that you have to do is to come to him as you are, and trust in him. Oh! if you will believe that he is the Son of God, and is able to save you completely, and if you will cast yourself on him with your whole weight, falling upon him, leaning upon him, resting upon him, being totally humble before him, showing that you are depending on nothing and no one else for salvation, then you will be saved. Now cling to the cross, you shipwrecked sinner, and you will never go down while clinging to that. If you are enabled by the Holy Spirit to put your complete and simple trust in Christ, then earth’s mountains may shake, and the stars of heaven be extinguished, but you will never perish, neither will anyone ever pluck you out of Christ’s hand. Trust Jesus; that is the way of salvation. “What!” says one, “if I trust Christ today, will I have my sins forgiven?” Yes, forgiven this morning. “What! if I just rest in Christ, and look to him?” Even so. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
“There is life for a look at the crucified One,
There is life at this moment for you;
Then look, sinner, look unto him, and be saved,
Unto him who was nailed to the cross!”
You will be saved, not by sorrowful tears; not by wailings and good works; not by doing and praying; but coming, believing, simply depending upon what Jesus Christ has done. When your soul says by faith what Christ said in fact, “It is finished,” you are saved, and you may go on your way rejoicing.
We have thus preached God’s way of pardon, and man’s way of getting God’s pardon; but we are also commanded to preach about the character of this forgiveness of sin.
Never had messengers such happy tidings to deliver. When God pardons a person’s sins, he pardons them all; he makes a clean sweep of the whole. God never pardons half a person’s sins, and leaves the rest in his book. He has pardoned all of our sins at once. I believe that, virtually, before God, all the sins of the believer were so laid to the account of Christ that no sins ever can be laid to the believer’s door. The apostle does not say, “Who does lay anything to the charge of God’s elects” but “Who will?” as though nobody ever could. I am inclined to think that these [Kent’s] words are literally true, —
“Here’s pardon for transgressions past;
It matters not how black their cast;
And oh! my soul, with wonder view,
For sins to come here’s pardon too!”
It is a full pardon.
God takes his pen, and writes a receipt. Though the debt may be a hundred talents, he can write it off; or if it is ten thousand, the same hand can receipt it. Luther tells us of the devil appearing to him in a dream, and bringing before him the long rolls of his sins, and when he brought them, Luther said, “Now write at the bottom, ‘the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin:’” oh! that blessed word “all” — “from all sin,” — great sins and little sins; sins of our youth, and sins of our old age; sins committed at night, and sins committed during the day; sins of action, and sins of thought, — are gone! Blessed Savior! Precious blood! Omnipotent Redeemer! The Mighty Red Sea that thus drowns every Egyptian!
It is a full pardon, and it is likewise a free pardon.
God never pardons any sinner from any other motive than his own pure grace. It is all free of cost. It cost the Savior a great amount, but it costs us nothing. It is a pardon freely given by a God of grace, because he delights in mercy.
There is, too, this further blessing about it, that, while it is full and free, it is also everlasting!
Whoever God pardons, he never condemns. Once God says, “I absolve you,” then no one can lay anything to our charge. We have heard of men who have been pardoned for one offense, but who have committed another, and have therefore had to die; but when the Lord pardons us, he prevents us from going back to our old life of sin and corruption. He puts his Spirit in us, and makes us new creations, so that we find we cannot do what we used to do. That mighty grace of God is without repentance; God never repents of having bestowed his grace. Do not believe those who tell you that he loves you today, and can hate you tomorrow. O beloved! once you are in Christ, the devil cannot get you out of him. Get into the sacred clefts, sinner, into that Rock of Ages which was cleft for you, and no demon, nor the devil himself, can ever drag you out. You are safe when once you get into that harbor. Get Christ, and you, have got heaven.
All things are yours when Christ is yours; full pardon, free pardon, and everlasting pardon; and let me also tell you, it is a present pardon.
There are those that will try to tell you that you cannot know you are forgiven until you come to die. O beloved! when people talk like that, it simply shows what they know, or rather, what they don’t know about it. There are some here who can bear witness; no, there are millions of God’s people who, if they could speak from heaven, would tell you this, “We knew our pardon many years before we entered into rest.”
My friends, if you had ever been locked up in prison, as some of us were, and had been set free, you would know what present pardon is. Five long years it was with me a bitter agony of soul, when nothing but, hell stared me in the face, when I had no peace neither night nor day, and oh, what joy it was when I heard that precious truth, “Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth;” I felt the pardon really fall on me! I was as conscious of pardon as this hand is conscious of being clean after I have washed it, and as conscious of being accepted in Christ in that moment, as I am now sure that I am able to stand here and say as much with my mouth. A person may have this infallible witness of the Holy Spirit. I know that, to some emotionless minds, it will always seem like fanaticism; but what, do I care whether it seems like fanaticism to them or not, as long as it is real to my heart?
We consider ourselves as honest as others, and have as much right to be believed; whether they credit our sanity and our sincerity or not does not affect us one bit, so long as we know that we have received the grace.
If you receive a clear profit of ten thousand dollars [pounds] from some investment, and somebody said to you, “That’s nothing but foolishness;” the proof would be unanswerable if you had received the amount, and had the money to prove it. Then you would say, “Oh! you may think whatever you want about it, but I have the cash.”
So Christians can say, “Being justified by faith, we have peace: with God; ... and not only that, but we also have joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” When someone tells a Christian that he is not forgiven, he says, “Oh! you may say what you like about it; but I have the witness within that I am born of God. I am not what I used to be; if I were to meet myself in the street, I would hardly know myself; I mean my spiritual self, — my inner self, for I am so changed, so renewed, so turned upside down that I am not what I was, I am a new creation in Christ Jesus.” The person who can say this can bear to be laughed at. They know what they are all about, and at the most sober moment of their life, even when lying on their bed sick and ready to die, they can look right into eternity, soberly judge Christ, and find him to be worthy of their confidence, and, thinking of the blood-washing, find it to be a real fact. There are a thousand things in this world that look good enough until you come to look at them from the viewpoint of the grave; but this pardon from our sins looks better the closer we get to eternity, and the more solemnly and deliberately we take our account of it in the sight of God.
Oh, yes! There is a present pardon; but what I want to say most emphatically is, that there is a present pardon for you. Yes, for you!
If anyone among you will come and trust Christ, there is present pardon for you. What! That gray-headed man over there, seventy years old in sin? Yes, blessed be the name of the Lord, if he this morning should rest, in Christ, there is an instantaneous pardon for him! And is there a prostitute here today? Is there a drunkard here? Is there one here who has cursed God? Is there one here who has been dishonest? Is there one here over whom all these sins have rolled? Why, if you believe in Christ, then your sins, which are many, will all be forgiven you. And even if there in one here that is so guilty of the vilest sin, that we all might want to turn away from them, if they will only trust Christ, Christ will not turn away from them, but will receive them. Oh! Wasn’t that a wonderful moment when the Savior wrote on the ground, as the woman caught in adultery stood before him, when all her accusers, being convicted by their own consciences, walked away, leaving the sinner and the Savior alone together, and when Jesus Christ, who hated all kinds of sin, but who loved all kinds of sinners, stood up and said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more”?
Oh! Poor sinner, Jesus Christ does not condemn you. If you condemn yourselves, he will never condemn you. He will only condemn your sin, for that is what he hates, but he does not hate you. If you and your sins part, Christ and you will never part. If you will only trust him now, you will find him able to completely save you from all your sins, which have become your plague and your burden. God help you, then, to immediately trust him right now, and to find this present pardon, — this pardon which will last you forever, and which you may have right now!
Now, as I said before, all this will be good news only to those who want to be pardoned, and not to those, who do not require it. I have nothing to say to those who do not want it; why should I? They that believe that they are not sick have no need of the physician, but for those that know they are sick, God will have something to say to you, one of these days.
I remember, and I hope you have not forgotten, the story of the rich man [Luke 16:19-31]. It is more than an allegory, it is a true story. You know that, while he was in this world, he lived in luxury everyday. He was dressed in purple and fine linen, and as for God’s child Lazarus, the rich man thought, he was a poor miserable, beggar, only fit to be with the dogs, and he despised him. He looked at him, and said, “Oh! I am a gentleman; I am dressed in purple and fine linen; I am not part of your beggarly saints that sit on the dunghill, though they call themselves saints, and all that; I am rich.”
Now, the truth of the matter is that he did not see himself as he truly was; he had scales all over his eyes. But he found out the truth one day. You remember Christ’s words, “In hell, where the rich man was in torment, he looked up!” Oh! and he saw then what he had never seen before. All that he had ever seen before had been a deception; he had been confused and blind. He had been the beggar—the one in great need, all along, if he had only known it; while Lazarus, who had wore beggar’s clothes, was waited on like a prince and carried by angels into heaven. So, the poor beggar, covered with sores, who thinks he is only fit for the dunghill, he is the man Christ will save, he is the man Christ will take up into heaven in the end. As for the self-righteous persons, who think themselves so good and excellent, they will see that all their external glitter will be completely burned up in the fire; the varnish and paint will all come off; God will knock the masks off their faces, and let the leprosy that was on their forehead be seen by everyone. But, sinner, you who are lost in your sin and corruption, and who know it, to you is preached this morning the forgiveness of sins, through the God-man Christ Jesus.
II. I will now proceed to remind you of THE CONGREGATION TO WHICH PAUL ADDRESSED HIMSELF AND WHAT BECAME OF THEM.
The text says, “The forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” Never mind the Jews and Gentiles Paul preached to; the verse is just as applicable here today as it was then. “The forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”
My dear friend, it is no small privilege to be where the message of the forgiveness of sins can still be heard.
The forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; but not to the many millions who have gone the way of all flesh, unforgiven and unsaved. How is it that you are spared? Your brother is dead; your children have, some of them, died; but you are spared. You have been at sea. You have been in danger. You have had a serious disease. You have been near death; and yet here you are kept alive, with death so near. Isn’t this a great privilege that the forgiveness of sins has been preached to you? What would those in hell at this very moment give to hear it preached once more? What would they give to have another opportunity to put their faith in Christ?
But it has been said of them, —
“Too late, too late! you cannot enter now.”
“The forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” I said that this was a privilege; but it is a privilege which some of you, have despised.
Those who heard Paul, had never heard the gospel before; many of you have heard it ever since your childhood. Sadly! I cannot help saying of some of you that I am ready to despair of your conversion. You do not advance in the Christian faith. All the exhortations in the world are to you as if they were spoken to a brick wall! Why will you die! What will happen to you? What will be said to you? The forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you today! When you die, foolish, Christless, unsaved — when the first bit of dirt is thrown on your coffin, we will have to think to ourselves, “Oh, that person is lost and in hell, and yet the forgiveness of sins was preached to them!”
Well, today, right now, it is still being preached to you. Despite the fact that you have continued to neglect the privilege, the gospel is still being preached to you. I wish I could point my finger to some of you, and say, “Well, now, I really do mean you personally. You people way in the back of the church, whom I can barely see, and you upstairs in the balcony, every one of you — to you, is preached the forgiveness of sins. God has not sent me today to preach to your neighbors, but to you — you, Mary, Thomas, George, John, Sarah — you, yes you personally — to you is preached the forgiveness of sins, and it is with you now, today, to consider what reception will be given to this message of mercy. Will a hard heart be the only answer? Oh, may the Spirit of God come upon you, and give instead a convicted conscience and a tender heart, that you may be led to say, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
Do you ask, “What became of those who listened to Paul preach the Word with such gripping seriousness?”
Some of them became very angry and hostile at the message and the messenger. If you read through the chapter, you will find that the Jews were filled with envy, and they spoke against those things that were declared to them by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming, and so on, until Paul shook the dust off of his feet against them, and went his way.
But there was another class of people. The 48th verse says, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the Word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48]. Oh, there is the comfort! There are some, whenever the gospel is preached, who do not like it. A person was once very angry with me because, in preaching on the natural depravity of man, I had charged mankind with being depraved, and I had said that man was proud. This one particular man would not confess it, and there he was proving the truth of the assertion as it was in regards to the fact that he was proud, because, he could not bear to hear the truth about himself. If he had said he was proud, I would have thought I had made a mistake; but when he got angry, I knew that God had sent me to tell him the truth. Outspoken truth makes half the world angry. The light blinds their eyes.
When the Jews resisted and fought against Paul’s preaching, did Paul feel disappointed? Oh, no or if he did feel depressed for a moment, there was a strong remedy at hand — that very thing which caused Jesus to rejoice in His spirit as he saw the grace of the Father in revealing unto babes those things that are hidden from the wise and prudent. Here was Paul’s comfort — there were some on whom there had been a blessed work; there were some whose names were written in the Book of Life, some concerning whom there had been covenant transactions; some whom God had chosen from before the creation of the universe; some whom Christ had bought with his blood, and whom the Holy Spirit, therefore, came to claim as God’s own property, because Christ had bought them upon the bloody cross, and those “some” believed. Naturally they were like others, but grace made the distinction, and their faith was the sign and evidence of that distinction.
Now, you needn’t ask today whether you are God’s elect. I ask another question — Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you do, you are his elect, if you do not, the question is still not to be decided by us. If you are God’s chosen ones, you will know it by your trusting in Jesus. Simple as that trust is, it is the infallible proof of election. God never gives the gift of faith to a soul whom Christ has not bought with his blood; and if you believe, all eternity is yours; your name is in God’s Book—you are a favored one of heaven; the divine decrees all point to you; go your way, and rejoice.
But if you don’t believe, you are full of bitterness and in the shackles
of iniquity. May eternal mercy bring you out of that state, yes, bring you out
of it this morning! Oh, that I had the power to plead with some here who know
that Christ died, who know that he can save, who know the gospel, but who still
do not trust in that gospel for their salvation! Oh, may you be led to do it,
and to do it, now, before this day is over! We want and pray for the conversion
of many more beside you. If we had these souls given to us, what a token for
good it would be, and what a comfort! May the Lord bring you in, and bring you
in this morning! Oh, trust him, soul, trust him! May God help you to trust him,
and his will be the praise, world without end! Amen.
Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "Spurgeon Collection" by: