The True Aim Of Preaching
“Be it known unto you, therefore, brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.”
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 Truths of God and then to impress those Truths upon the emotions of his hearers with earnest and forcible exhortations. This is an excellent model for revivalists. They must not give exhortation without Doctrine, for if so, they will be like men who are content with burning powder in their guns, but have omitted the shot! It is the Doctrine we preach, the Truth we deliver which God will make a power to bless men. However earnest and zealous we may be in speaking, if we have not something weighty and solid to say, we shall appear to be earnest about nothing and shall 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 close and personaldealings with the souls of men and bids them not neglect this great salvation!
At the same time, it was not all Doctrine and no exhortation but, whenever Paul wound up his discourse and left the synagogue, he made a strenuous, pointed, personal appeal to those who had listened to him! Let such of our brethren as are passionately fond of mere Doctrine–but having little of the marrow of Divine Mercy or the milk of human kindness in their souls, do not care to have the Word pressed upon the consciences of men–let them stand rebuked by the example of the Apostle Paul! He knew well that even the Truth of God, itself, would be powerless unless it is applied. Like the wheat in the basket, it can produce no harvest till it is sown broadcast in the furrows. We cannot expect that men will come and make an application of the Truth of God to themselves. We must, having our heart glowing and our souls on fire with love to them, seek to bring the Truth to bear upon them, to impress it upon their hearts and consciences as in the sight of God and in the place of Christ.
The subject to which Paul drew attention–the target at which he was shooting all his arrows–was forgiveness ofsins through the Man, Christ Jesus. That is my subject tonight. And when I have spoken upon it briefly, I shall then have a few words to say about his audience and what became of them.
- PAUL’S SUBJECT was superlative–the Subject of subjects–the great master Doctrine of the Christian ministry–“ Be it known unto you, therefore, brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.”
“The forgiveness of sins” is a topic which will be more or less interesting to every hearer here in proportion as he feels that he has committed sins, the guilt of which appalls his conscience. To those good people among you who fold your arms and say, “We have done no wrong either to God or man,” I have nothing to say. You need no 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 already you think yourselves to be rich and increased in goods. But I shall be quite sure of the ears of the man whose sins have been a burden to him. If there is one here who needs to be reconciled to God, who says with the prodigal, “I will arise and go to my Father,” I shall not need to study how to fit my words–let them come out as they may, the theme, itself, will be sure to enlist the attention of such an one who says–
“How can I get my sins forgiven?
How can I find my way to Heaven?”
While we attempt to tell him that, we shall ensure his attention. This is our aim–and this we will do if God permits.
The Christian minister tells men the ground of pardon, the exclusive method, (for there is a monopoly in this matter)–the exclusive method by which God will pardon sin. “Through this Man,” says the text. That is to say, God willpardon, but He will only pardon in one way–through His Son Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus has a monopoly on mercy! Ifyou will depend upon the uncovenanted mercy of God–the mercy of God apart from Christ–you shall find that you have depended upon a reed and built your house upon 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, you may think that you can drink there to the fullest, but you shall die disappointed. You must die unless you come for salvation to Christ! What does He say, Himself? “I am the Door: by Me if any man enters in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” He that believes on the Son of God is not condemned! But he that believes not–may he go right, too? No, he is already condemned because he believes not! “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” These are Christ’s own words, not mine! He that believes shall be saved, “but he that believes not shall be”–what? Pardoned for his unbelief? No, he–“ shall be damned!” There is no other alternative. The expression might seem harsh if I were theinventor of it, but as it came from the lips of Christ who was the gentlest, meekest and most tender of men, God forbid that I should make up a charity of which the Lord, Himself, made no profession! “He that believes not shall be damned.” God presents mercy to the sons of men, but He has chosen to present it in only one channel–through that Man who diedfor sinners, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring them to God!
Why is it that forgiveness comes to us only through Jesus Christ? The whole economy 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 if you once clearly understand the condition that made it requisite. Though His people were objects of God’s everlasting love, their sins had kindled His fierce anger as if it were an unquenchable fire. Inasmuch as God is just, He must from the necessity of His Nature, punish sin! Yet He willed to have mercy upon the fallen sons of men. Therefore it was that Christ came into this world. Being God, He was made Man for our sakes. He suffered from the wrath of God that which we, the offending sinners, ought to have suffered. God exacted from the Man, Christ Jesus, that which He would otherwise have exacted from us! Upon Christ’s dear devoted head was laid the curse. Upon His bare back fell the scourge that would have tortured our souls throughout eternity! Those hands of His, when nailed to the tree, smarted with our smart. That heart bled with our bleeding. “The chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed; surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” 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 man who had violated discipline and was condemned to die. But his elder brother, a grand old soldier who had often been to the front in the battles of his country, came and exposed his chest, showed his many scars and exhibited his body covered with the orders, insignias and honors of his victories. And then he said, “I cannot ask life for my brother on account of anything that he has ever done for his country. He deserves to die, I know, but I set my scars and my wounds before you as the price for his life. And I ask you whether you will not spare him for his brother’s sake.” And with acclamation, it was carried 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 that unworthy brother 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 to also preach to you the instrument through which you may obtain this pardon. We read the question in your anxious eyes, “I can understand that Christ, having stood as a Substitute, has received from God power to pardon human souls, but how can I obtain the benefit, how can I draw near to Him?” Did you ever read that Moses described the righteousness of faith–and Paul endorsed his description? “Say not in your heart, who shall ascend into Heaven, or who shall descend into the deep?” You have no reason to climb so high or dive so low. “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart; that is, the Word of faith which we preach.” You have no need to go home to get at Christ! You have no need to even come here to find Him! He is accessible at all hours and in all places–the everpresent Son of God.“ But how shall I come to Him?” asks one. Oh, you need not torture your body! You need not afflict your soul! You need not bring your gold and silver–you need not even bring your 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 to the uttermost–and if you will cast yourself upon Him with your whole weight–falling upon Him, leaning upon Him, resting upon Him with that whole trust which needs and lacks no other support, you shall be saved! Now cling to the Cross, you shipwrecked Sinner, and you shall never go down while clinging to that! If you are enabled by the Holy Spirit to put your sole and simple reliance upon Christ, earth’s pillars may totter and the lamps of Heaven be extinguished, but you shall never perish, neither shall any pluck you out of Christ’s hands! Trust Jesus–that is the way of salvation! “What?” asks one, “If I trust Christ tonight, shall I have my sins forgiven?” Yes, forgiven tonight! “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 thee!
Then look, Sinner, look unto Him and be saved–
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree!”
You will be saved, not by repenting and tears! Not by wailing and 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 your way rejoicing!
We have thus preached God’s way of pardon and man’s way of getting at God’s pardon. But we are also enjoined to preach about the character of this forgiveness of sin. Never had messengers such happy tidings to deliver! When God pardons a man’s sins, He pardons all of them–He makes a clean sweep of the whole! God never pardons half a man’s sins and leaves the rest in His Book of Remembrance. He has pardon for all 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 ?” as though nobody evercould! I am inclined to think that 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 itoff! Or be it 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 gray hairs! Sins by night and sins by day! Sins of action and sins of thought–they are ALL gone! Blessed Savior! Precious blood! Omnipotent Redeemer! 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 Hisown pure Grace. It is all gratis! It cost the Savior much, 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 irresistible! Whom God pardons,He never condemns. Let Him once say, “ Absolvo te,” “I absolve you,” and none can lay anything to our charge! We haveheard 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 our going away to our old corruption. He puts His Spirit in us and makes new men of us 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 hates you tomorrow! O Beloved–once in Christ the devil cannot get you out of Him! Get into the sacred clefts, Sinner, of that Rock of Ages which was cleft for you, and out of it the fiends of Hell can never drag you! You are safe when once you get into that harbor. Get Christ and you have Heaven!
All things are yours when Christ is yours–full pardon, free pardon and everlasting pardon! And let me also tell you, present pardon. It is a notion still current that you cannot know you are forgiven till you come to die. O Beloved,when people talk thus, it shows what they know, or rather, what they do not know about it. There are some here who canbear witness–no, there are millions of God’s people who, if they could speak from Heaven, would tell you that they knew their pardon long years before they entered into rest.
If you had ever been shut up in prison, as some of us were, and had been set at liberty, 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 neither night nor day had I peace, and oh, what joy it was when I heard that precious Truth of God, “Look unto Me, and be you 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, at that moment, as I am now sure that I am able to stand here and say as much with my mouth! A man may have this Infallible Witness of the Holy Spirit! I know that to some stubborn minds, it will always seem as fanaticism, but what do I care whether it seems as fanaticism to them or not, as long as it is real to my heart? We count 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 a straw, as long as we know that we have received the Grace! If you reckoned a clear profit of ten thousand pounds upon some speculation and somebody said to you, “It is all foolery”–the proof would be unanswerable if you had received the amount and had the bank notes in your house. Then you would say, “Ah, you may think as you like about it, but I have got the cash.” So Christians can say, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God…and not only so, but we also 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 Iam not what I was! I am a new man in Christ Jesus.” The man who can say this can bear to be laughed at. He knows what he is doing and at the coolest and most sober moment of his life, even when lying on his bed sick and ready to die, he can look right into eternity, soberly judge of Christ, and find Him to be worthy of his confidence and, thinking of the bloodwashing, find it to be a real fact! There are a thousand things in this world that look well enough till you come to look upon them in the prospect of the grave–but this is a thing that looks better, the nearer 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.“Who is that?” you ask. Oh, I am not going to pick and choose from the midst of you. Whoever among you will come and trust Christ, there is present pardon for you! What? That gray-headed man there, 70 years old in sin? Yes, blessed be the name of the Lord, if he this night should rest in Christ, there is instantaneous pardon for him! Is there a harlot here? Is there a drunk 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, your sins, which are many, are all forgiven you! And though there should be brought before us one so guilty that we might well stay away from him, yet if he can but trust Christ, Christ will not stay away from him, but will receive him! Oh, was not that a wonderful moment when the Savior wrote on the ground as the woman taken in adultery stood before Him–when all her accusers, being convicted by their own consciences, went out, 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, lifted Himself up and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more”? Ah, 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 shall never part! If you will but trust Him right now, you shall find Him able to save you even to the very uttermost from all these sins of yours which have become your plague and your burden! God help you, then, to trust Him at once 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 pardon, but 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 are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.“ God will have something to say to you one of these days. I recollect and I hope you have not forgotten the story of the rich man. It is more than allegory, it is fact. You know that while he was in this world, he hadfared sumptuously every day. He was clothed in purple and fine linen and as for God’s child Lazarus, he 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 none of your beggarly saints lying on the dunghill, though they call themselves saints, and all that. I am rich.” Now it so happened that he did not see himself–he had scales over his eyes. But he found out the Truth of God one day. You remember Christ’s words, “In Hell, he lifted up his eyes!” Ah, and he saw, then, what he had never seen before! All that he had ever seen before had been a glamour over his eyes–he had been dazed and benighted. He had been the beggar, all the while, if he had but known it! While Lazarus, who had won thebeggars garb, was waited on like a prince and carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom. So, the poor beggar, covered with wounds and 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 to Heaven at last! As for your self-righteous men who think themselves so good and excellent, they will be like the tinsel and the gilt–and will all be 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 brow be seen by all men. But, Sinner, you who are such, and who know it–unto you is preached this night forgiveness of sins through the Man, Christ Jesus!
II. We shall now proceed to remind you of THE CONGREGATION TO WHICH PAUL ADDRESSED HIMSELF, AND WHAT BECAME OF THEM.
The text says, “Unto you is preached forgiveness of sins.” Never mind the Jews and Gentiles Paul preached to–theverse is quite as applicable here as it was there. “ Unto you it is nosmall privilege to be where the message of the forgiveness of sins can yet be heard. is preached the forgiveness of sins, but not to the tens of thousands and millions who have gone the way of all flesh, unpardoned 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 peril. You have had the fever. You have been near death and yet here you are, kept alive, with death so near! Is not this a privilege that unto you is preached the forgiveness of sins? What would they give to hear it once more? What would they give to have another opportunity? But it has been said of them–
“Too late, too late! You cannot enter now.”
“Unto you is preached the forgiveness of sins.” I said that this was a privilege, butit is a privilege which some of youhave despised. Those who heard Paul had never heard the Gospel before–many of you have heard it from your youth up. Alas, I cannot help saying of some of you that I already to despair of your conversion! You do not improve. All the exhortations in the world are to you as if they were spoken to an iron column or to a brazen wall! Why will you die? What shall be done to you? What shall be said to you? Unto you is preached the forgiveness of sins. When you die, careless, Christless, unsaved–when we throw that handful of dirt upon your coffin, we shall have to think, “Ah, that man is lost, and yet unto him was preached the forgiveness of sins!”
Well, but it is still preached to you! Notwithstanding that you have neglected the privilege, the Gospel is still preached to you! Gladly would I point my finger at some of you and say, “Well, now, I really do mean you, personally.You people under the gallery whom I cannot see and you upstairs, here, everyone of you–unto you is preached the forgiveness of sins! God has not sent us, tonight, to preach to your neighbors, but to you–you Mary, Thomas, George, John, Sarah–you, you personally–unto you is preached the forgiveness of sins and it is with you, now, tonight, to consider what reception shall be given to the message of mercy! Shall a hard heart be the only answer? Oh, may the Spirit of God come upon you and give instead thereof a quickened 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 to whom the Word was preached with such thrilling earnestness?”
Some of them raved at a very great rate. 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 his feet against them and went his way. But there was another class. The 48 th verse says,“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the Word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Ah, that 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 man with being depraved and I had said that man was proud. The man would not confess it and there he was–proving the truth of the assertion regarding himself that he was proud, because he could not bear to hear the truth told him about it! If he had said he was proud, I would have thought I had made a mistake, but when he bridled up and got into an angry temper, I knew that God had sent me to tell him His Truth. Outspoken Truths of God makes half the world angry! The Light of God blinds their eyes!
When the Jews kicked against Paul’s preaching, did Paul feel disappointed? Oh no, or if he did feel depressed for a moment, there was a strong cordial at hand–that very cordial by reason of which Jesus rejoiced in spirit as He saw the goodwill 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 upon 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 foundation of the world! Some whom Christ had bought with His blood and whom the Spirit, therefore, came to claim as God’s own property because Christ had bought them upon the bloody tree–and those “some” believed! Naturally they were like others, but Grace made the distinction and faith was the sign and evidence of that distinction!
Now, you need not ask tonight whether you are God’s elect. I ask another question–Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? If you do, you are His elect–if you do not, the question is not to be decided by us yet. 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 sets the brand of faith upon 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 believe not, you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity. May eternal mercy bring you out of that state, yes, bring you out of it tonight! Oh, that I had the time and 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 would it be, and what a comfort! May the Lord bring you in, and bring you in tonight! Oh, trust Him, Soul, trust Him! May God help you to trust Him, and His shall be the praise, world without end!